Summer Sundays at Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven National Laboratory is a research laboratory funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The facility focuses on research for studies in physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, applied science and advanced technology and is located on eastern Long Island.  Every summer, the Laboratories host a four-week series of free programs on Sundays and invites the public to tour their world-class facilities, attend science talks, hands-on science exhibits and view a different science show each week. This past Sunday my son and I coupled with some friends went to check out their program entitled Brilliant Light, Dazzling Discoveries.

This guy didn't have his own hair to experiment with the Van de Graaff Generator!

This guy didn’t have his hair to experiment with the Van de Graaff Generator!

We arrived on the 5,300-acre government site and headed to Berkner Hall.  We learned that we would be able to tour the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) II, a new light on the horizon that will be the world’s brightest X-ray microscope.  Also on the agenda was the original NSLS which is used to look at everything from batteries to viruses.  Before obtaining a bus ticket to the NSLS, we attended an overview of the facility and synchrotron light.  People of all ages filled the auditorium and listened attentively about the history of the establishment; it’s Nobel Prize Winners and research highlights.  Some interesting facts that we learned were:

  • The laboratories are on the grounds of a former U.S. Army base used in both World War I and World War II.
  • Brookhaven research produced seven Nobel Prizes.
  • Nearly 1,000 scientist and engineers call Brookhaven their research home and over 4,000 more come to use the Lab’s facilities each year.

We also learned information that would prepare us for our visit to the National Synchrotron Light Source.  For starters, we learned that a synchrotron light source is a combination of different electron accelerator types, including a storage ring that generates a desired electromagnetic radiation.  This radiation in the experimental stations is on various beamlines.  Using X-rays and ultraviolet and infrared light, the NSLS has been used to decipher molecular structures of proteins and viruses to studying magnetism, superconductivity properties.

The National Synchrontron Light Source -II at Brookhaven National Laboratory (photo from flyer)

The National Synchrotron Light Source -II at Brookhaven National Laboratory (photo from flyer)

After the overview, we hopped aboard a yellow school bus that brought us a short distance to the NSLS- II Building which is still under construction and is expected to be operational in 2015.  We entered the ring building to find tables set up with exhibits and experiments like you would find at a science fair except for the people in the lab coats behind the tables were actually real scientist.  There were exhibits on everything from solar panels, liquid nitrogen and audio frequency light synthesizers. There was quiz card that we picked up before going to the different tables that upon completion we could enter a raffle for a prize. This was an excellent idea to keep everyone engaged. We were also able to go inside the half a mile ring that will accelerate a beam of electrons allowing it to circulate in different frequencies of light for scientist  to use in various experiments.

Learning about solar panels with remote control cars powered by the sun.

Learning about solar panels with remote control cars powered by the sun.

Scientist doing experiments with liquid nitrogen.

A scientist was doing experiments with liquid nitrogen.

Hearing the light.

My son hears the light.

Inside the ring.  The dipole magnets are blue and they bend the beam, so the electrons can circulate.

Inside the ring. The quadrupole magnets (yellow) and sextupole magnets (orange) focus the beam of electrons.

After chatting with several enthusiastic scientist and research students, we turned in the quiz card. No one in our party won the raffle, but the boys walked away with a free flashlight key chain.

We ended the day back in Berkner Hall where we watched a Laser Light Show. The laser show was by Prismatic Magic and was about 40 minutes and was interesting in the beginning when learning fun facts.  For instance, I never knew that LASER was an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.  After the science lesson, the show turned to music and offered an opportunity for kids to get on stage with Prismatic Magic’s mascot Artie the Ant.

Laser Light show- great for younger kids.

Laser Light show- perfect for younger kids.

Before leaving, the boys participated in some hands-on science demonstrations.  They were able to experience Bernoulli Principle in action.  We all watched several people’s hair stand on end with the Van de Graaff generator.


Bernoulli Principle

I have lived on Long Island for over ten years and have driven past Brookhaven National Laboratory numerous times.  I was surprised to learn that so many scientific achievements have occurred on Long Island.  As a pharmaceutical rep, I  found it interesting to discover that the development of L-dopa took place at the Laboratory for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.  I never knew that, and I have worked in neurology for years.

If you are interested in attending one of the free Summer Sunday programs, there are two left for this year which is appropriate for ages 10 and over. Programs like this are great to get kids excited about science, and it brings the things they have learned in school around full circle so that they can understand real life application.  The program is equally exciting for adults and proves the point that we never stop learning.   The remaining programs are:

July 28th – Exploring the Ultra Small 

August 4th – Atom-Smashing Fun

Where have you visited that brought out your inner Einstein?


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