Creating ‘a pipeline for STEM careers’

From left, youth camp participants Javier Armendariz, Elijah Ronquillo and Gabriel Madrano, all 8, learn about energy during a STEM workshop taught by Sandia National Laboratories employees Wednesday at the Jack Candelaria Community Center in Albuquerque. (Adria Malcolm/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Sandia National Laboratories engineers traded their high-tech equipment for slime, cotton-ball catapults and makeshift lava lamps Wednesday.

The engineers held a “STEM in the Sun” event at a city summer camp at the Jack Candelaria Community Center. The lab workers guided children ages 5 to 15 through a series of fun science experiments to educate the campers on basic science and math principles, and to encourage students to pursue careers in those fields when they grow up.

For example, Natasha Genson, an engineer at the labs, had the children fill a zipper bag with liquid and food coloring. Then, they added the chemical compound borax, which quickly turned the liquid into a slime.

“This is what you call an ‘activator,’ ” she explained as the kids molded the substance into a putty. “Now, it’s not a liquid any more. You’ve already changed it.”

The slimy goo was a highlight for 7-year-old Carlton Jefferson.

“You have to put borax in, and you scrunch it and it turns into slime,” he said. “I’m going to go home and play with it.”

Katrina Wagner, a community relations specialist at the labs, said Sandia employees can get paid for up to 30 hours of educational outreach work each year.

“We’re trying to be a pipeline for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers,” she said.

Richard Gonzales, manager at the Jack Candelaria Community Center in Southeast Albuquerque, said there are about 75 kids in the community center’s summer camp. He said the center has tried to bring in different groups to work with the children this summer.

“Since we can’t do field trips (because of COVID-19), I’m trying to get people to come here,” he said.

Youth camp participant Allison Aguilar, 9, examines a lava lamp she made at a STEM workshop Wednesday. Sandia National Laboratories employees guided campers through several experiments, including one to make lava lamps from water, vegetable oil, food coloring and Alka-Seltzer. (Adria Malcolm/For the Albuquerque Journal)

The Sandia-led experiments sought to teach scientific principles in an experiment that resulted in a toy.

Jazlynn Sandoval, 7, admired the results of one experiment: a do-it-yourself lava lamp made from vegetable oil, water, food coloring and Alka-Seltzer.

Sandoval, whose favorite subjects are math and science, planned to keep it by her bed at home.

“In the dark, it might glow,” she said. “I think it looks like lava.”

Sandia engineer Kate Hoffmeister has done much of her professional work at a Thermal Test Complex at Sandia, where she studies such things as massive fires.

On Wednesday, she was making bracelets with kids using beads that change colors when exposed to ultraviolet light. She had slathered some of the beads in sunscreen to slow down the change.

After making the bracelets in the shade, the campers would take off running around a sunny tennis court as the beads changed colors.

“Some of the older kids know about things such as atoms, so I can explain the science,” she said.

“For the younger kids, it’s more about understanding … why you wear sunscreen.”

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