Adam Oppenheimer Wins Ignite Off! Science Talk Competition

Brookhaven Lab summer intern explained antineutrino research in fast-paced presentation

2023 Ignite Off! First Place! Adam Oppenheimer

Adam Oppenheimer, who spent a summer internship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory studying elusive particles called antineutrinos, earned the top spot in Ignite Off!—a fast-paced science talk competition that showcases the talents of interns contributing to research at national laboratories.  

Ignite Off! challenges students to share their research in five-minute talks using 20 picture-centric slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. Competitors in the inaugural DOE-wide event were all participants in Community College Internships (CCI), Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI), and Visting Faculty programs at different labs.

“It was a wonderful experience even if I hadn’t won,” said Oppenheimer, a summer 2023 SULI participant who is majoring in math and physics at the University of Chicago. “I really liked the format. It forces you to make your ideas very concise. I think it really shows how important the idea of science communication is.”

Oppenheimer received a $1,000 gift card for his first-place presentation, "Investigating unexplained features in reactor antineutrino spectra,” that offered an introduction to tricky-to-detect antineutrinos and research aimed at better understanding their behavior.

“They’re really, really light and have no charge, which for these reasons make them fairly difficult to detect,” said Oppenheimer, who collaborated with Nuclear Science & Technology Department Chair Alejandro Sonzogni during his internship. “There are a lot of different places people can find them, but we specifically looked at those produced in nuclear reactors.”

Scientists can collect data from nuclear reactors about antineutrinos—antimatter particles produced in nuclear beta decay and the counterparts to neutrinos—to inform models on the particles’ behavior, Oppenheimer said. Researchers hope to nail down antineutrino behavior that isn’t fully explained by current models by focusing on products that show up in the nuclear reaction process, including nuclides from uranium and plutonium, he explained.

“There are a lot of different subsidiaries, products that just appear down the chain, and when you sum up all of the different contributions of those products there’s a possibility that small features get created,” Oppenheimer said.

Brookhaven’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP) organized the Ignite Off! program for interns at the Lab, including the semifinalist round Oppenheimer advanced through to reach the national final.

“Events like these allow students to hone their presentation skills while simultaneously showcasing the impressive research performed at national labs,” said Sharon Pepenella, who oversaw the program at Brookhaven. “The experience can bolster confidence and foster a deeper understanding of the student’s research while promoting knowledge sharing within the STEM community.”

The Ignite Off! Competition is sponsored by DOE, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientist (WDTS). The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) coordinated and hosted the national event.

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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Tags: education

2023-21528  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom