Geeky Parent Guide: Science Rocks! (Part 1) - Exploring Jefferson Lab

Are there other ways for students to get involved with science, other than school fairs or creating demonstrations or experiments at home? Actually, if you live in Virginia near Newport News, you have a legitimate opportunity to explore the wondrous world of Jefferson Lab.

What happens at Jefferson Lab? Think The Big Bang Theory and you will understand it a little bit easier – and that connection relates to physics. The purpose of this research facility is to study nuclear physics, which is “the science of studying the nucleus of the atom.” The atom, if you might recall from school, comprises of protons, neutrons, and electrons – the protons and neutrons together, forming the nucleus, with the electrons surrounding.

“Jefferson Lab’s mission is to provide scientists around the world with opportunities to experiment with and learn more about nucleons,” and they do just that. Their particle accelerator is where these experiments take place. It’s shaped like a racetrack, it’s underground, and they send electrons through this tunnel to interact with nuclei, and the process is repeated over and over taking up to months to collect data, as scientists try to further understand the inner workings of an atom.

In addition to trying to understand nuclear physics, the Jefferson Lab also provides an assortment of opportunities for students and teachers to learn and be involved with science. They have a Science Series where individuals give lectures on specific topics, which can range, but not limit, from DNA to infectious diseases, “Volcanoes in Virginia!,” and all things physics, including the Higgs Boson – you might have heard that on The Big Bang Theory, too.

They also give students and parents plenty of games and puzzles to look through, and the games’ subject matter revolves around Math, Science, words, and “just for fun.” Your kids can try to unscramble science-related words, compete against a friend or computer in a game of number logic, test your memory with elements on the periodic table, which they also have an online table to study, and they even offer a coloring book available to download or you can color online with an interactive app.

Frostbite Theater is a collection of science videos – and they are cool – many of which take a look at the reactions of different objects with liquid nitrogen. How would older pennies fair against newer ones after being dumped into liquid nitrogen, and then introduced to a hammer? Would a balloon pop or would something happen to the air trapped inside? Is there a magnetic response to either liquid nitrogen or liquid oxygen? And what will be the final result after introducing a Koosh ball to the deep freeze? These fun, quick videos are a fantastic way to expand our understanding of how things react to extreme conditions. Of course, nothing could go wrong when adding fire to liquid oxygen, right?

Students can also become better prepared by taking practice tests for the Virginia State Standards of Learning (SOL). These practice sessions are determined by what you want to be challenged with – different Math levels, as well as Algebra and Geometry as options, multiple Science tiers, including Biology and Chemistry, and a pair of technology-based tests. You are also able to choose how many questions you want to be quizzed on. In addition to fun experiments and resources for students, Jefferson Lab also provides additional educational opportunities.

“Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) in Newport News, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, encourages undergraduate students to apply for the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program to participate in research opportunities in accelerator physics and nuclear physics, engineering, computer science, and mathematics.” In this ten-week opportunity, with an expected 40 hours per week, interns will have supervision on projects with the goal to ultimately see students move onto an advanced degree after their four-year college program. This is a competitive process, which is why they also highlight expectations for each applicant. Students also receive a weekly stipend. For high schoolers, they also provide paid summer internships and unpaid mentorship programs.

Already planned for next year, there is a Science Camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids. This camp is scheduled August 13 through 17, 2018, running from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Registration is required for this event, but there isn’t any cost – it is FREE. To register, simply email the following items to hampton (at) jlab (dot) org:

“Student Name, Age, Grade Level, School, Dates Attending Camp, Primary Mode of Communication (ASL and/or spoken English), and Special Accommodations Needed.”

Teachers can participate in the JSAT, Jefferson Lab Science Activities for Teachers, to “build teachers’ skills in physical sciences.” This program is aimed at 5th, 6th, and 8th grade science teachers, providing an interactive experience to help them improve their teachings in the physical sciences. There are several listed dates available for teachers to select throughout the school year, and topics will include “matter, energy transfer, force and motion, magnetism and electricity, atomic structure, waves and sound, simple machines, watershed and optics.” Although the deadline for completed applications has passed, this program is a clear example of how many offerings are presented by this institute.

The adventure of diving into all that Jefferson Lab has to offer, with the wonderful help of Deb Magaldi in the Communications Office, is seemingly never-ending. Their website alone sees high traffic during the SOL season, which stands to reason with all they have to offer, and the sense of wonder only increases with the sheer thought of visiting them in person. If science is an interest, or perhaps you want to have a better understanding of what Leonard and Sheldon are talking about, perhaps this place should absolutely turn up on your bucket list.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

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