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Amanda Horn

Educational Programs Administrator Michele Darienzo Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Brookhaven National Laboratory hopes to inspire the scientists of the future.

The Department of Energy sponsored national laboratory, which attracts scientists from all over the world to its state-of-the-art facility, opens its doors regularly to local students and teachers, with researchers and educators translating what they do to area residents at all levels of scientific development and understanding.

Amid so many other efforts and with a welcome return to on-site education after pandemic restrictions over the last few years, BNL received DOE funding to help eight area teachers learn how to create computer coding.

In their classrooms, these educators have shared what they studied this past summer with their students.

Amanda Horn

Coding, which uses programs like Python and Arduino, can help scientists create a set of instructions that allow computers to process and sort through data more rapidly than any person could by hand.

At the same time, a knowledge of coding can and does provide students with tools that scientists seek when they are choosing graduate students, technicians or staff in their laboratories.

Coding helps to set students “up for a job,” said Michele Darienzo, Educational Programs Administrator and one of the two teachers for the four-week summer program. “It puts you at the top of the pile.”

Darienzo added that efforts such as these prepare the science, technology, engineering and math workforce for the future.

Using modern technology, researchers collect data in a wide range of fields at a rate that requires technological help to sort through it and derive meaning from it.

“We’re at the point where lots of projects are collecting so much data and information,” said Darienzo. “We have one experiment [that is producing] many iPhones per second worth of data. That’s not something a person can do in their lifetime.”

Darienzo taught the programming language Python to the class of teachers, while Amanda Horn, who is also an Educational Programs Administrator, instructed these educators with Arduino.

“It went really well,” said Horn. “The teachers seemed really engaged in everything we were doing.”

A day in the life of a river

Bernadette Uzzi

Beyond the on site experience at BNL, Horn accompanied a class this fall or a Day in the Life of the Carmans River at Smith Point County Marina.

The students used sensors to measure numerous variables, such as temperature, pressure and humidity. With another sensor, they were able to measure carbon dioxide levels.

“If you cup your hand around the sensor, you can graph [the level of the gas] in real time using the code,” said Horn. Variabilities occurred because of the movement of air, among other factors, she added.

The students on the trip “seemed excited [to use the sensors] and to get a sense of how they worked,” Horn said.

In the context of global warming in which greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide drive an increase in temperature, Horn addressed why it’s important to measure the levels of the gas.

Ongoing efforts

Training teachers to code represents one of numerous educational efforts BNL offers.

The Office of Educational Programs has hosted over 30,000 participants in various programs in its K-12 and university science education programs.

Kenneth White

Bringing students back on site this year after suspending in person visits amid the pandemic created a “big difference” for students, in terms of their excitement and enthusiasm, said Kenneth White, Manager of the Office of Educational Programs.

Jeffrey Tejada, a junior at Brown University, conducted summer research in the Computational Sciences Initiative.

Tejada, who grew up in Patchogue and moved to Medford, appreciated the opportunities he’s had since he started coming to BNL at the age of 14.

“It’s crazy how incredible BNL Is as a resource,” said Tejada, whose parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Indeed, the first year Tejada attended, Aleida Perez, Manager, University Relations and DOE Programs at BNL, needed to convince his mother Rosa Tejada that the effort, which didn’t involve any pay, would benefit her son.

“My mom asked [Perez,], ‘how worth it is this?’” Tejada recalled. Perez told Rosa Tejada, “You have to do this.”

His mom didn’t understand, but she listened and “that’s all that mattered,” as Tejada not only conducted research over the years, but is also planning to earn his PhD after he graduates.

White suggested that the recent coding effort was a recognition that students coming for internships at BNL or for scientific training opportunities elsewhere ended up spending considerable time trying to “figure out the basics” of coding.

Aleida Perez

In the first year of the teaching program, BNL reached out to teachers in 20 school districts that met particular criteria, including serving a high percentage of students that are traditionally under-represented in STEM fields. This included Longwood, Hampton Bays, Williams Floyd, South Huntington, Roosevelt, Central Islip, Middle Country and Brentwood.

The first week of the program was “frightening” for some of the teachers, who hadn’t had coding experience, said Perez. The teachers were “glad they came back for week two.”

As a part of the program, teachers presented their coding lessons to high school students on site at BNL, said Bernadette Uzzi, Manager, K-12 Programs in the Office of Educational Programs.

The final assessment test was a “pretty fun day,” Uzzi said, as the students pushed teachers to go further with their outdoor explorations.

Uzzi was thrilled when she had read that the Department of Energy had invited BNL to write a proposal for this pilot program. “Coding skills are important to be a scientist, no matter what field you’re in” she said. “There’s definitely a gap in what students are learning in school versus what is needed in the STEM workforce.”

Summer of ’24

At this point, it’s unclear if the DOE will build on this pilot program and offer additional teachers the opportunity to learn coding and bring this skill back to their classroom.

Uzzi said she would like to increase the number of teacher participants to 12 next year and to add physics applications to the current course work, which included a focus on environmental climate science.

BEST OF THE BEST The seven students who received top honors are (top row, from left) kindergartener Rebecca Tyler, first grader Violet Radonis, second grader Taran Sathish Kumar, (lower row, from left) third grader Adam Dvorkin, fourth grader Liam Savage, fifth grader Michaela Bruno, and sixth grader Rebecca Bartha. Photos from BNL
Annual contest offers Long Island, NYC students an opportunity to showcase their science projects

Should you sanitize your television remote? How can we keep apple slices looking fresh? Do dogs have a favorite color? Long Island and New York City students tackled questions of all kinds using the scientific method in the 2022 Elementary School Science Fair hosted virtually by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The goal of the annual competition organized by the Office of Educational Programs (OEP) at Brookhaven Lab is to generate an interest in and excitement about science and engineering for all ages.

“It’s an honor and inspiration for us to look at all of the posters by students who are joining Brookhaven in a passion for discovery,” said Scott Bronson OEP manager of K-12 programs. “Just like the scientists here at Brookhaven Lab, Science Fair participants study questions of ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ to meet science challenges.”

This year’s competition invited projects by students from Suffolk County, Nassau County and New York City schools in kindergarten through sixth grade.

From left, Northport Middle School, sixth grader Grace Rozell received an Honorable Mention and fifth grader Michaela Bruno captured First Place in her grade at the BNL Science Fair on July 10. The students are pictured with Assistant Principal Dr. Chelsea Brown and Principal Timothy Hoss. Photo from BNL

Participants qualified for the Brookhaven Lab contest by winning science fairs held by their schools. Volunteer judging teams consisting of elementary school teachers and Brookhaven Lab scientific and engineering staff evaluated a total of 189 projects.

“We were so excited to expand the Science Fair and welcome projects from students across all of Long Island and New York City,” said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who coordinated the virtual science fair. “We loved seeing the projects from other areas and we hope to see even more projects in the future.”

The following students earned first place in their grade level and received medals and ribbons, along with banners to hang at their school to recognize the achievement:

◆ Kindergartener Rebecca Tyler of Miller Avenue Elementary School, Shoreham-Wading River School District, for her project, “How to get Permanent Marker Out of Clothes?” 

◆ First grader Violet Radonis of Pines Avenue Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, for “Bad Hair Days…No More! Let’s Learn about the Land of the Rapunzals”

◆ Second grader Taran Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, for “Cleaning Up Oil Spills Using Natural Organic Sorbents” 

◆ Third grader Adam Dvorkin of Pulaski Road Elementary School, Northport-East Northport School District, for “Sardine Pop in a Bathtub” 

◆ Fourth grader Liam Savage of Ruth C. Kinney Elementary School, East Islip School District, for “Weight is Tow-Tally Helpful” 

◆ Fifth grader Michaela Bruno of Northport Middle School, Northport-East Northport School District, for “Here Comes The Sun” 

◆ Sixth grader Rebecca Bartha of Raynor Country Day School in Speonk for “Super Sea Shells Save the Seas”

Young scientists share their results

OEP staff announced the winners and honorable mentions during an online awards ceremony on June 10. Students with top-notch projects shared how they conducted their experiments.

First-grader Violet Radonis asked whether rice water can make hair grow faster and stronger. After four weeks of testing a mixture of basmati rice and water—plus orange peels for a nice scent—on eight test subjects, she found: “It does help make it a little bit better than it was before.”

Orange peels also played a part in second grader Taran Sathish Kumar’s experiment. In his search for an environmentally safe sorbent to protect marine life from oil spills, his hypothesis that orange peels would remove the most oil from water was correct. He also tested a corn cob, banana peel, and a pomegranate husk. 

“Around the world when boats go in the water, oil spills from the boat and it’s harmful to the animals,” he said.

Third grader Adam Dvorkin wanted to find out what sort of pop pop (or putt putt) boat design is the fastest. He built and observed three boats, each with a different sized boiler made from a soda can bottom. The biggest boiler was the best, confirming his hypothesis. 

“My favorite part was when me and my dad had to check how fast each pop pop boat was to see which one was the fastest,” he said.

Fourth grader Liam Savage tested whether adding weights to the top of a remote-control truck would increase its towing ability. He found that a specific amount of weight increased the truck’s tower power by giving it extra traction. But with too much weight, the truck would stall. With too little weight, the truck didn’t have enough grip. “My favorite part was driving my car and seeing how much weight it could pull,” he said.

Aspiring astronaut and fifth grader Michaela Bruno searched for the best material to block ultraviolet rays for protection.”I want to be an astronaut when I grow up and I want to know how the UV lights in space affect them,” she said.

By shining a UV flashlight on UV beads covered by different materials she learned that aluminon foil and dark cotton fabric offered the best protection. With those results in mind, Bruno went on to engineer a model space suit and visor.

Honorable mentions

Kindergarten: Kacey Stidd, Riverhead; Lucas Luna, Hampton Bays; John O’Donnell, Kings Park

First Grade: Hudson Costales, East Northport; Jaxon Romano, Middle Island; Marilla Pendelton, Aquebogue 

Second Grade: Jude Roseto, Cutchogue; Ashleigh Bruno,  Northport; Kayleigh Moore, East Northport 

Third Grade: Matthew McHugh, Hauppauge; Riona Mittal, Hauppauge; Maxin Vetoshkin, Hauppauge

Fourth Grade: Evan Pereyra, Westhampton Beach; Agnes Van Winckel, Kings Park; Emma Lochner, Sayville 

Fifth Grade: Mihir Sathish Kumar, Hauppauge; Faith Andria, Remsenburg;  Madeline Croce, Sayville 

Sixth Grade: Grace Rozell, Northport; Elle Redlinger, Montau

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, please visit www.science.energy.gov


Seven students took top honors and 15 others received honorable mentions in the first-ever virtual version of the annual elementary school science fair sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Girls and boys in kindergarten to grade 6 entered 129 science and engineering projects for the competition. They represented 38 elementary schools across Suffolk County.

The seven students to receive top honors as well as medals and ribbons are kindergartener Jude Roseto of Cutchogue East Elementary School, Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District, “Friction with Bubbles”; first grader Emerson Spooner of Raynor Country Day School, “Save the Earth: One Plastic Straw at a Time”; second grader Sara Jain of Tamarac Elementary School, Sachem Central School District, “Shrink It Up”; and third grader Mia Trani of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “Housing the Homeless.”

Top honors also went to fourth grader Rebecca Bartha of Raynor Country Day School, “Dynamic Duckweed: A Solution to Pollution in Local Water”; fifth grader Reilly Riviello of Cherry Avenue Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “What Material is the best to protect your property from Flash Flooding” and sixth grader Emma Tjersland of Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge School District, “Drug Facts: Impacts of Medicine Exposure on Daphnia Magna Heart Rate.”

“Thinking like scientists and engineers is so important for students — asking questions, testing assumptions, drawing conclusions, and thinking about future research,” said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who coordinated both the virtual science fair and a new Science Share program. “The Lab has hosted science fairs for years to encourage students and we didn’t want COVID-19 to stop us in 2020.”

Science fairs at Brookhaven Lab were typically held in person at the Lab site and students, their families, teachers, and school administrators were invited to attend. With schools closed and Brookhaven Lab’s site mostly inaccessible to limit the spread of COVID-19, Horn, Scott Bronson and their colleagues in Brookhaven’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP) quickly adjusted plans to hold the 2020 science competition virtually.

As in years past, students first qualified for the Lab’s fair by winning their schools’ “local” science fairs, some of which were also held virtually. Projects completed by individual students and groups were accepted — one project per grade per school.

Instead of bringing projects to Brookhaven Lab for an all-day on-site event, parents and teachers submitted photos of students’ projects. OEP staff then distributed the photographs and a rubric among 23 judges, comprising Brookhaven Lab scientists, engineers, and technical staff as well as teachers from local elementary schools. To maintain objectivity and limit potential biases, information such as students’ names, schools, and districts was not shared.

The 15 students who received Honorable Mentions were kindergarteners Taran Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, “Strength of Spaghetti” and Evelyn Van Winckel of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “Are Your Hands Clean?”; first-graders Mason Rothstein of Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “3,2,1…Let It Rip” and John Henry of Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School, Rocky Point Union Free School District, “Lego Rubber Band Cars”; and second-graders Agnes Van Winckel of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “The Flight of a Football” and Cassie Danseraeu and Katelynn Hausmann of West Middle Island Elementary School, Longwood Central School District, “Can Aloe Vera Juice Save Strawberries from Mold?”

Honorable mentions were also given to third-graders Mihir Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, “Strength of Electromagnets” and Matthew Mercorella of Sunrise Drive Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “Think Twice Before Melting the Ice”; fourth-graders Samuel Canino of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Riddled With Puck Shot,” Jack Gomez of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Infinipower” and Madelyn Kalinowski of Laurel Hill School, “Wash Away Germs”; fifth-graders Alexandra Barry of Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and Gavin Pickford of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Is This The Last Straw”; and six-graders Karly Coonan of Raynor Country Day School, “The Last Straw” and Pranav Vijayababu, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge School District, “Save Our Seas.”

“Suffolk County, New York State, the country, and the world need scientists and engineers now and in the future. The students in this science fair are young, but they aren’t too young to have fun with investigative science and engineering processes,” said Scott Bronson, Brookhaven Lab’s manager for K–12 programs.

“Once again, the students who participated were exceptional. Their projects showed it. Congratulations to each of them. And, ‘Thank you,’ to every parent, teacher, mentor, and volunteer who helped them — and will continue to help them along the way.”

For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/.

Photos courtesy of BNL