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Scott Bronson

Awards Ceremony for Bridge Contest 2023
High school students become model bridge engineers in annual contest

Jacqueline Seifert, a senior at Commack High School, won first place in the 2023 Bridge Building Competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory on March 30.

The annual contest puts model bridges constructed by Long Island High School students to the ultimate pressure test. Students apply physics and engineering principles to build basswood structures to a set of specifications. Then, their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the mass of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch.

“This competition is an introduction to the world of engineering,” said Scott Bronson, manager for K–12 programs at the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP). “At Brookhaven Lab, engineers of all types support our science goals at world-class facilities and the DOE mission. We hope this contest inspires students to explore paths in science, technology, math, and engineering and to return to the Lab as interns and future employees.”

OEP received a total 142 bridges, of which 91 qualified for testing, captured below.

An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at Brookhaven Lab on April 6. The top two winners in this regional competition qualify to compete in the International Bridge contest on April 29 in Chicago, IL.

Seifert, who earned second place in last year’s local competition and placed 16th in the previous international contest, designed a bridge that weighed 23.47grams and recorded an efficiency of 1342.22. As the testing machine slowly added more and more weight to Seifert’s W truss design, the Science Learning Center erupted in impressed “oohs” as the load hit close to 70 lbs. Retired Brookhaven Lab engineer and longtime competition supporter Marty Woodle noted right away “that’s an international contender.”

Seifert, who will pursue civil engineering at Vanderbilt University, said it was rewarding to watch her design hit that high bridge load. “The most exciting part was the experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn’t, finding the weak points in my bridge so I could continue to make it better,” she said. “I’ll see how it goes in the international competition.”

Katherine Liang, a junior at Ward Melville High School, who garnered first place in two previous contests and 9th and the last international competition, placed second this year with a design that realized an efficiency of 1094.44.

Third-place winner Jonathan Thomas, a junior at Walt Whitman High School, constructed a bridge that recorded an efficiency of 1048.18. After conducting bridge demos in a physics lab at school, Thomas learned his design needed more horizontal support and looked to previous competition winners for potential engineering ideas.“It’s definitely a career path I want to go into,” he said.

Aidan Quinn, a junior at Smithtown High School East won this year’s aesthetic award. Quinn’s double arch design was neat with clean lines, inspired by a photo his father showed him that captured a historical moment when a pilot flew a biplane under a bridge that once crossed the Niagara River.

“I would love to major in biomedical engineering,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I was able to participate in the competition. It was a great experience.” 

Aleida Perez during BNL's virtual teaching sessions this summer

By Daniel Dunaief

For well over two years, herd immunity, vaccination status, social distancing, masking and airborne particles became regular topics of conversation. 

People have a range of understanding of these terms and how to apply them to understanding the fluid conditions that are an evolving part of the pandemic.

Aleida Perez

This summer, with funding from the National Science Foundation, a group of scientists and doctors from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, New York University and MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics, worked together with middle school and high school teachers around Long Island to prepare lesson plans on how to use and understand the application of statistics to the pandemic.

“It was a wildly successful summer,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We spent hours and hours of time” working with teachers who developed lessons that addressed a host of issues related to COVID-19.

It was “an amazing experience” and the teachers “were the best part,” said Dr. Nachman.

Allen Mincer, Professor of Physics at New York University, has been working on and off with BNL for over two decades on various educational programs. He has been more actively engaged in the last four years.

As he and his collaborators were discussing possible educational outreach topics, they focused on the disruptive disease that changed the world over the last few years.

“This year, we were talking about it and, instead of doing random applications of statistics, we figured, why not do something that’s very practical in everyone’s mind,” Mincer said.

The projects and discussions, which were all conducted virtually, centered on numerous misconceptions people have about the pandemic. Teachers focused on questions including: what is the “efficiency” of a vaccine and how is it determined, what does a positive virus test result mean, if I am vaccinated, why do I care if others are, why take a vaccine when there are side effects, and I have to go to school and mix with people, so why shouldn’t I also let down my guard in other ways, among others.

“The challenges that this virus brings concerning topics like herd immunity was very interesting,” said Scott Bronson, manager of outreach to K-12 teachers and student for BNL’s Office of Educational Programs.

Scott Bronson during the BNL virtual teaching sessions this summer.

For teachers and their students, the realities of the pandemic were the backdrop against which these teachers were seeking to provide guidance. “It was happening live,” said Bronson. “What is herd immunity? That’s where the work of [Dr. Nachman and Mincer] came together beautifully.”

Bronson added that students will have a chance to explore the kinds of questions pharmaceutical companies are addressing, such as “What would you want the next vaccine to do” and “What would you do to make the vaccine better at preventing infection.”

The organizers put together teams of three to four high school and middle school teachers who created statistics lessons plans for the group.

“The way we worked it out, we put teachers in groups,” said Aleida Perez, supervisor of student research and citizen science programs for Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Office of Educational Programs. “We wanted to have different teachers with different courses and different perspectives on how to do things.”

One of the overarching goals was to help students understand such lessons as what it means to have a negative result on a virus test or what it meant when scientists and pharmaceutical companies described a vaccine’s efficacy.

The teachers explored the probability of side effects like myocarditis and whether the “benefit outweighs the risk of taking the vaccine,” Perez said.

For many of the teachers, the discussion expanded beyond COVID to an analysis of any infectious agent. Indeed, one of the groups of teachers described a zombie apocalypse.

The teachers provided a “nice overview to look at the education of public students,” said Perez.

The group hopes to make these lessons available for other teachers, although they haven’t determined where or how to post them.

The scientific team also hasn’t determined yet how to measure the long term impact or effectiveness of these lessons.

ATLAS project

As a part of the team involved in the ATLAS physics program at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, Mincer uses statistics to design, test and implement the tools to pick and choose from numerous reactions and then to study the data collected.

“We actually keep about a billion events out of the 100 trillion or so interactions the LHC produces in a year,” Mincer explained.

In previous years, Mincer has taught about statistics in general and its use in ATLAS. This year, he focused on statistics and its application to pandemic questions.

Several years ago, Mincer taught a freshman seminar called “Great science, fabulous science and voodoo science,” in which he described what students could learn from statistics, how the media covers science, science and government policy and how lawyers use science in the courtroom.

“After explaining statistics [and sharing] why we can only say we have evidence down to this level, I had a student tell me he’s dropping out of science as a major because he wanted certainty and I disillusioned him,” Mincer said.

As for the work with the high school teachers, Mincer said it was “great what they have been able to do” in preparing lessons for their students and sharing information about statistics.

Mincer has received some additional funds from the NSF to support two more such educational outreach programs, one of which will tentatively cover climate change.

“Statistics can be used to quantify the likelihood of events in the absence of climate change,” he explained.

Statistics provide a tool to document subtle but potentially significant changes in climate.

While Bronson wouldn’t commit to a discussion of climate change for the next group of teachers, he said he “wouldn’t be surprised if we look at climate change” and that “there’s a lot of interesting areas to explore in this field.”

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