Facing warm, gusty winds and long, dusty roads, dozens of high schoolers — mostly from out of town — on Thursday piled into school buses and made a long trek to remote research facilities to learn about how scientists at Sandia National Laboratories harness the power of the sun.
The long journey seemed to be worth the destination.
“It’s just amazing,” 14-year-old Lukas Colburn said.
“I didn’t know that these facilities existed out here, almost in the middle of nowhere,” freshman Ryan Tortalita added.
Students from Grants, Hiroshi Miyamura and Gallup high schools dove deep into the science and engineering behind solar energy and the other research that goes on at the labs, far away from public view, in what was described as the first large tour since the start of the pandemic.
They were guided largely by engineers and chemists who work at the facilities.
“It’s good to take the kids around,” materials chemist Andrea Ambrosini said. “They’re the future, they’re going to be the ones working on this in 20 or 30 years, so to know that they have the options and that there’s all these types of interesting research is good.”
Protected by white hard hats, students visited a couple different buildings, including the base’s solar tower, where from a dizzying 160 feet off the ground they peered down a shaft used, among other things, to create high-speed and high-temperature conditions to test materials that go on Mach 5 airplanes.
“I was like, super scared in that tower,” Grants High School freshman Gary Chavez later recalled.
But a fear of heights didn’t stop his, or other students’, curiosity.
Colburn said he found that part of the tour fascinating. Despite the fact that he’s only a freshman, he said he’s already thinking about aeronautics as a career.
“I thought it was really cool, what they do,” he said. “I’m really interested in that, in aircraft in general.”