‘STEM Day at the Lab’ 2024 hosts hundreds from Central Valley communities

LLNL’s STEM Day (Download Image)

LLNL’s STEM Day instills an awareness and passion for STEM by exposing students (grades 5–8) to science and technology. More than 200 students and chaperones from the Central Valley participated in the event on April 19. Photo credits: Garry McLeod.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) welcomed more than 200 students and chaperones from the Central Valley to ‘STEM Day at the Lab’ on Friday, April 19. STEM Day is a biannual daylong interactive event focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities for students (grades 5-8) from underserved communities. The event marked an opportunity for the Laboratory to engage students with creative career opportunities and inspire them to think of STEM fields in a different way. This year, STEM Day showcased the newest National Ignition Facility (NIF) comic book.

As soon as the students arrived, the Lab bustled with activity. Students represented four school districts: Manteca Unified School District, Modesto Unified School District, Stockton Unified School District and Tracy Unified School District. For many students, it was their first time visiting and touring a scientific institution like LLNL.

STEM Day is sponsored by the Lab’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) with programmatic support from the Academic Engagement Office (AEO). The event is geared toward getting students excited about how fun science can be as a career path and to encourage them to make positive future life and career choices.

Laboratory leaders welcomed the participants with motivational speeches.

“STEM Day gives you a glimpse of what you can do one day,” said Tony Baylis, director of the Lab’s IDEA office to STEM Day participants. “It serves as an opportunity for the Lab to raise your awareness in STEM. We want you to be curious, ask questions and be hands-on with us today.”

Engineering’s Acting Principal Deputy Associate Director Donn McMahon gave students an overview of the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and LLNL.

“What we do here is create big ideas. We push the limits of big science, and we need your energy and creativity to solve the tough problems we face,” he said. “We want people to think differently so that we can partner on innovation. As you explore the Lab today, know that we’re looking for the next generation of collaborators to take us to where we need to go. It starts with you.”

Larry Durham, associate director of Human Resources, encouraged participants to think unconventionally.

“Where you start and finish are not the same points when you’re with us at the Lab,” he said. “When you’re with us, we want you to ask questions and pursue adventure and fulfillment that is for you and the Lab.”

'Ignition' comic book makes its debut

LLNL comic books and STEM Day have a unique history together. John Jett, a graphic designer with the Lab’s Technical Information Department, is the creator of two educational comic books explaining NIF and the types of careers that support the operation of the world’s largest and most energetic laser.

Lab artist John Jett debuts LLNL’s newest comic book: “Ignition.” STEM Day is significant to the Lab’s comic book series — inspiring students to pursue STEM fields is the primary reason for the comic books’ creation. Read LLNL’s comic books here.

STEM Day participants in 2018 received the first comic book, “NIF.” It’s now been reprinted more than 30,000 times. Jett shared the first comic book is an effective way to explain to a broad audience all about NIF – from the basic science behind it, the missions NIF supports and the makeup of its workforce.

On April 19, Jett returned to STEM Day to distribute the Lab’s newest comic book: “Ignition.”

The 2024 issue is a sequel to the award-winning comic book, released in 2019. Jett, who is part of a team of Lab artists, writers, editors and other creative communicators, told students that he uses his skills to convey how the achievement of ignition was “going to benefit everybody in this room, everybody on this planet.”

The comic book was distributed at STEM Day where participants were able to take a copy of it home. (Image: John Jett/LLNL)

“One of the biggest challenges that we have at the Lab is how to communicate what we do and why we do it to our sponsors, to our workforce and to our community,” Jett said. “It’s our job to tell that story.”

Read how this new comic book tells the story of ignition.

Fun with Science presentation sparks interest in science

Following Jett’s comic book reveal, participants enjoyed a Fun with Science display by Lisa Belk, the associate director for the Lab’s Business Directorate.

Through Belk’s presentation, students learned about the concepts of light, lasers, optics and physics. The showcase introduced students to the science behind NIF, sparking students’ interest in science.

Before lunch, participants took a group photo where more than 55 Lab employees joined students and discussed what they do, sharing potential careers students could embark upon at the Lab. In total, 86 employees volunteered to make the first STEM Day in 2024 happen, including Security Police Officers from the Lab’s Security Organization, who escorted participants throughout their visit. 

Hands-on real science and tours with experts

The afternoon consisted of a NIF tour to see the world’s largest and highest-energy laser system. Sylwia Hamilton coordinated the tour with the support of 37 NIF volunteers. Following the tour, participants engaged in hands-on STEM activities. The hands-on demonstrations, workshops and tours allowed students to be scientists for the day. Activities were led by Tiffany Yslas, showing bristle bots, and Paige Jones and Mariah Martinez, who guided students to build LED helicopters.

Ripple effects in the making

STEM Day influenced educators to learn more about the Laboratory and bring what they learned back to their classrooms. For two teachers, it was an experience they hope to continue to share in California’s Central Valley.  

Marcus Sherman, a K-12 science curriculum specialist at Stockton Unified School District, brought his students to LLNL and made the connection between his classroom’s science lessons and the Lab’s work.

Students participated in hands-on demonstrations, workshops and tours on STEM Day.

“Being here shows our students the diverse fields they can go into in STEM. What the Lab does is truly important for our students who often never get to leave Stockton,” Sherman said. “Our students truly appreciated the event, including all the wonderful staff and volunteers that made this happen. Thank you for an engaging and fun experience for our students.”

Another teacher and her students – Deanna Reynolds of August Knodt Elementary School and Manteca Unified School District – made their first visit to the Laboratory. Her school is in the process of developing a STEM program and the visit supports her school’s development initiatives as well as inspiring her 8th-grade students.

“It is our first time being in an environment like the Lab,” Reynolds said. “And we’re thankful we’re here. It is important for us to be here today because our students’ age group is when the most impact can happen in a student’s academic journey.” One of Reynolds’ students agreed. “I never considered STEM fields and after today’s experience, I would like to learn more,” the student said.

LLNL invests in building connections, access and opportunities for students in underserved and disadvantaged communities in support of pursuing STEM careers. The Lab is an involved member of local communities, and STEM Day builds the future of the STEM workforce for the Laboratory and the nation.

Organizers of the event included Baylis, Jenessa Angel, IDEA program manager, and Joanna Albala, AEO’s STEM education program manager. Curious to learn more about the Lab’s community and education efforts? Read how LLNL engages with neighboring communities. For more information about future STEM Day programming, contact IDEA [at] (LLNL’s IDEA) office.