Scouts, Science & Fun

While schools across Long Island were closed for winter recess, 90 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts from Suffolk County visited Brookhaven Lab for hands-on workshops, experiments, tours, and fun during "STEM Scout Day" on Feb. 19.

STEM Scout Day (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) was organized by the Portal to Discovery—a collaboration between Brookhaven Lab and the Long Island Matrix of Science and Technology (LIMSAT)—with the Boy Scouts of America, Suffolk County Council.

"We team up with groups like the Boy Scouts of America so more and more students get to actively engage in science, meet scientists, and be inspired by the excitement and importance of science, technology, engineering, and math," said LIMSAT Executive Director and Portal to Discovery partner Harriet Copel.

“Partnering with LIMSAT has enabled us to do more programs like this, so we can introduce science to more students in the surrounding community,” noted Ken White, manager of Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs and founding director of the Portal to Discovery.

"Our Scouts had a fantastic time during STEM Scout Day at Brookhaven Lab—thanks to the partnership between our organizations that provided Scouts with hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math activities at one of the world's leading labs," said Senior District Executive Lauren Vlachos of the Boy Scouts of America, Suffolk County Council.

Structural Biology, Solar Energy, Static Electricity

The oldest Scouts—those in grades nine to 12—spent STEM Scout Day learning about structural biology, which involves studying complex molecules, determining their structures, and understanding how different structures affect functions. Like professional scientists, the Scouts donned safety goggles and gloves before growing their own crystals and observing them with microscopes in a lab. The Scouts learned more about structural biology from scientists Babak Andi and Annie Heroux while touring the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), home to two of Brookhaven Lab's seven Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and where Brookhaven scientists worked to determine the 3-D structure of a key protein on bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

"I can't get over the sheer complexity and organization required to research things that are unimaginably tiny," said Matthew Olenick of Troop 403 from Commack, as he snapped photos of beamlines at NSLS.

Meanwhile, boys in grades six to eight adjusted lights while measuring electrical output from solar panels during a workshop on solar energy. They also learned about "Nowcasting," an important part of understanding and predicting how weather, including sun-blocking clouds, will affect electrical grids that rely on solar energy. Despite the rain outside, these Scouts finished their workshop with a stop at the construction site of Brookhaven Lab's Northeast Solar Energy Research Center (NSERC). Once completed, researchers at the NSERC will test new energy technologies—such as smart-grid ready inverters, energy storage devices (e.g. batteries) that integrate with the grid, and solar panels made from different materials. This solar energy workshop included components to help the Scouts working toward the Boy Scouts' energy merit badge.

The youngest Scouts to attend STEM Scout Day, those in grades one through five, earned their "science belt loops," which are similar to merit badges older Scouts earn, at the Lab's Science Learning Center. During a lesson on static electricity, these Scouts practiced using the scientific method—asking questions, forming hypotheses, experimenting and observing, and determining results.

"We offer these kinds of workshops to students from different groups and schools all year round,” said K–12 Programs Supervisor Bernadette Uzzi, who oversees the Science Learning Center at Brookhaven Lab. “The Scouts were very interested in fulfilling science, technology, math, and engineering-related merit badge criteria, and we were glad to help." 

Girl Scouts and Students Have STEM Fun Too

While the boys completed STEM workshops on site, Girl Scouts off site had some STEM fun too. On Feb. 18 and 19, Portal to Discovery educators ran workshops on magnetism and electricity for Girl Scouts at Camp Edey in Bayport, which is less than 20 miles southeast of the Laboratory. Girl Scouts have visited Brookhaven Lab in the past for workshops to "see the invisible" at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, where scientists work with materials so small they are measured in billionths of a meter.

Students from Amityville High School, a home-school group, Longwood Middle School, and the Suffolk County Community College chapter of New York State's Science Technology Entry Program (STEP) are also scheduled to visit Brookhaven Lab for STEM education programs before February is over.

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