In 1943, the town of Oak Ridge was created in secret as part of the Manhattan Project to house the employees of the Clinton Engineer Works, including the X-10 Graphite Reactor that laid the foundation for the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
For 75 years, ORNL has been deeply engaged with the people and communities of East Tennessee. These are the communities where our researchers and staff live, where they raise their families and send their children to school.
ORNL believes that one of the best ways to invest in community success and prosperity is to tap into our wealth of scientific expertise and to invest our time, knowledge and resources toward STEM education, particularly with underserved and underrepresented populations.
I came to Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow and I know from personal experience that coming to a lab with the right kinds of tools and capabilities can open up unexpected opportunities for research.
ORNL’s Traveling Science Fair is one of our most popular STEM outreach efforts and is a unique opportunity to bring our science into the community and exhibit the importance of the work done every day at the lab.
The fair includes six interactive trailers that allow visitors of all ages to learn about ORNL’s neutron and materials science, chemistry, physics, environmental science, supercomputing, and nuclear research, as well as the vital contributions of our skilled craft workers and other support staff. ORNL researchers and staff guide visitors through hands-on demonstrations, answer questions and build enthusiasm for the lab’s scientific capabilities.
The fair hosted 25,000 visitors at schools, career expos, and festivals around Tennessee in 2017 and promises to educate many more about ORNL and STEM fields in the years to come.
The laboratory also mentors several area schools in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition, and ORNL-sponsored teams have won design awards and advanced to the national championships.
ORNL staff members volunteered 78 hours of teaching at 20 local schools for the nationwide Hour of Code effort in 2017, and the Oak Ridge Computer Science Girls group teaches middle school girls the fundamentals of computer programming at “You Can Code!” events at the lab.
ORNL scientists helped students at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge with a winning proposal to put a small satellite into orbit as a part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. Our staff mentors assisted in the design and prototyping of the 3D-printed cube satellite, which was developed to monitor the regrowth of vegetation following the destructive wildfires in Sevier County and the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016.
ORNL staff members founded the “Girls in STEM” mentorship program, which pairs ORNL mentors with young women, especially women of color, at Vine Middle School in Knoxville. The program exposes students to new scientific concepts in an understandable way and empowers them to pursue STEM fields where both women and people of color are underrepresented.
ORNL carries its STEM education initiatives into college and beyond through our educational opportunities and internship programs. The lab hosts about 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students every year, representing a diversity of disciplines, institutions and personal backgrounds.
It is important that these students not only have access to our unique facilities and capabilities, but that they also have mentors who can guide them in their fields. If we can provide them with a world-class research experience, they will return to their home institutions and spread the word about the wealth of expertise available at ORNL. This creates a pipeline that keeps the finest researchers and the most inquisitive minds coming to our laboratory.
All of these efforts illustrate how we think globally and act locally. Our researchers answer the toughest questions in science and accelerate the most advanced technology, but they also take time to teach students and speak to community members to inspire our next generation of scientists and engineers.