Brookhaven Lab's Open Houses Mix Science, Education, and Fun for Community

Public events drew close to 5,000 visitors for world-class facility tours, science activities for all ages

Child hold hands up to on sphere filled with orange streaks of light enlarge

The public explored Brookhaven's Science Learning Center, where young scientists can enjoy discovery-based, hands-on learning experiences, during the Family Fun Day tour on July 9. Pictured here, a visitor tests the "Plasmasphere," which shows how electricity creates plasma. Those who touch the sphere are conductors, and they can see how electricty will follow their hands.

Nearly 5,000 community members explored the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory for the on-site return of its open house tour series last month.

Over the course of four back-to-back Sundays in July, Lab staff offered the public an up-close introduction to the frontiers of discovery at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—all DOE Office of Science user facilities. The action-packed days included fun for all ages with hands-on science demonstrations, magical performances, and talks from world-class scientists.

"Our open houses are an important way Brookhaven Lab creates relationships with the public,” said Danielle Pontieri, who coordinates the events. “It’s an opportunity for the community to connect with our scientists, ask questions, and learn about the incredible work that happens across the Lab.”

Asmeret Asefaw Behre, director of DOE’s Office of Science, extended a virtual welcome to visitors and remarked how amazing science is happening in their own backyard. DOE’s national laboratories seek answers to the country’s most critical challenges of our time, including battling climate change and conducting investigations around nuclear physics, quantum computing, and more.

“Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm likes to say that the Department of Energy is America’s solutions department, and I always follow that up by saying the solutions for us start with science,” Berhe said. “That science is happening right here at Brookhaven and the 16 other national laboratories across the country.”

Tours, Talks, and Hands-on Science Activities

The first of the four free open houses kicked off on July 9 with family fun at the Science Learning Center, where budding scientists jumped into interactive exhibits in a range of science, technology, engineering, and math topics. Visitors heard from Tim Green, Brookhaven Lab’s natural and cultural resources manager, about ongoing wildlife research happening right at the Lab and got a look at wildlife found on the 5,000-acre site.

The day also featured the Super Scientific Circus’s “The Science of Magic Show” and an amazing activity zone where children learned how simple tricks work with physics and chemistry. Families toured the Lab’s firehouse (and firetrucks!) to learn how the Laboratory Protection Division keeps the community safe.

On July 16, visitors toured CFN, a DOE Nanoscale Science Research Center where researchers probe tiny structures for big discoveries across a broad range of research areas. The public saw scientists’ tools of the trade—top-of-the-line electron microscopes and a clean room where research teams work with advanced materials at the nanoscale and beyond. Attendees built their own model molecules, peered into microscopes, and enjoyed a live show featuring tricks and circus skills to explain the magic of chemistry.

CFN Theory & Computation Group Leader Sarah E. Mason shared how scientists are teaming up on theoretical and computational research for more advanced, efficient electronic devices and, ultimately, a brighter future. Materials scientist Jason Kahn, who created a unique system that connects software and a robot to "tune" new materials with building blocks organized at the nanoscale, explained how machine learning can help researchers in their experiments.

Brookhaven Lab's Open Houses Mix Science, Education, and Fun for Community

See photos from all four open houses. Hover over image to reveal slideshow controls.

The third open house on July 23 placed tour-goers on the experimental floor of NSLS-II, which produces light 10 billion times brighter than the sun for cutting-edge research at experimental stations called beamlines. Among the day’s hands-on activities, young scientists crafted gumdrop candy crystal structures, became "junior operators" by running a model synchrotron, and saw impressive liquid nitrogen demonstrations. Visitors were also treated to an exciting laser light show.

Delving further into NSLS-II's science, Sean McSweeney shared how recent research at the facility played an important role in fighting COVID-19, from finding protective mask materials to developing antiviral agents and targets for vaccines, and more. 

The final open house on July 30 was jam-packed with activities for those curious about physics at Brookhaven Lab. Visitors saw a special dipole magnet during tours of the Lab’s superconducting magnet facility, which designs unique magnets for particle accelerators, experimental facilities, and industrial applications.

Visitors learned about the amazing science and engineering at RHIC and plans for the future Electron-Ion Collider (EIC), a next-generation physics discovery machine, in a talk by EIC’s Kevin Smith. Members of various international physics collaborations were on site to share their science with the public.

They also heard about two major nuclear physics experiments at RHIC featuring two impressive, and massive, particle detectors that help scientists investigate the building blocks of matter. The open house included an introduction to the recently commissioned sPHENIX detector and its powerful superconducting magnet, plus a virtual tour of the upgraded STAR detector presented by Gene Van Buren and Rongrong Ma of Brookhaven Lab's Physics Department.

Connecting with the Community

This year, Brookhaven Lab held its first on-site open houses since 2019 after taking on a virtual, then off-site format in response to COVID-19. The Lab's tour organizers, science and support staff from each of the highlighted facilities and beyond, facilities and operations teams, and volunteers supported the effort to welcome visitors to the campus.

“The feedback we received about this year’s tours reflects the public’s overwhelming appreciation for this kind of up-close engagement and access to the Lab and its science,” Pontieri said. “We were so happy to extend a warm welcome to our community members and we can’t wait to see them again.”

More information about future open houses will be available early next year. Follow Brookhaven Lab on Facebook for the most up-to-date information, or visit the Lab’s website.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit

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