Flat Stanley Explores Brookhaven

It’s not often that someone like Flat Stanley visits Brookhaven Lab. The paper-thin character received a superstar’s welcome by staff scientists. He is internationally renowned — at least among school-aged children and their parents — for traveling the world via an envelope and has rubbed crayon-colored shoulders with entertainers and leaders from all over the world, including rock stars and presidents of the United States.

Flat Stanley is a drawing of a storybook character created by Jeff Brown that has been used for more than a decade as a tool to engage elementary school children in learning about the world and to enhance literacy. Each year, kids send paper cutouts of Flat Stanley around the globe and gather photographs of his travels.

Recently, Flat Stanley was shipped to Brenda Riddle, an applications engineer in Brookhaven’s Business Systems Division, via first-class mail by her great-nephew Owen Travis, a first grade student at Morehead Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Riddle immediately informed her colleagues and the news of Flat Stanley’s arrival quickly spread throughout departments.

“Everyone was very receptive to helping,” said Riddle. “The scientists are very excited about what they do and they love sharing it.”

Flat Stanley was cheerfully greeted by several scientists and received a VIP tour of BNL facilities while Riddle documented his trip using her digital camera. She will send the photos back with Flat Stanley for him to share what he learned about Brookhaven with Travis and his elementary school class.

First, Flat Stanley got a look at the New York Blue supercomputer, followed by a tour of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider’s STAR control room, guided by physicist Gene Van Buren. He then visited Andy Marone, an engineer at the Superconducting Magnet Division, for a close-up view of the magnet production and testing facility.

The next day, Lisa Miller, a biophysical chemist at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), escorted Flat Stanley behind the security doors to beamline U2B. It just so happened that the curator of the United States National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian Museum, Jeff Post, and his post-doc, Eloïse Gaillou, were studying pink- and blue-colored diamonds at the time and let Flat Stanley peer into the microscope at the sparkling gems.

Flat Stanley then visited biophysicists Allen Orville and Deborah Stoner-Ma, who took him to see the beamlines where the crystal structure data for the 2003 and 2009 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry were collected. While there, he peered into a monochromator to view the green phosphor glow of x-rays bouncing off the silicon crystals that the scientists were using for their crystallography experiments.

After touring the NSLS, Flat Stanley was shown a rendering of NSLS-II, when NSLS Chair Chi-Chang Kao stopped by to greet him and have a quick photo snapped together.

Escorting a paper storybook character through Brookhaven Lab certainly has its rewards.

“Typically I don’t get to see these facilities, so it’s fun for me to tour Brookhaven with Flat Stanley,” said Riddle.

After finishing his tour of Brookhaven at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) with Aaron Stein, a staff member of the CFN’s Nanofabrication team, Flat Stanley returned to North Carolina to share his world travels and new knowledge of science with Travis’ class.

“I’m really proud of what we do here,” said Riddle. “It’s great to be able to share it with my family and their community.”

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