02/25/2011

Bryan Balazs puts the bang in science

Anne M Stark, LLNL, (925) 422-9799, stark8@llnl.gov



Bryan Balazs at a Family Science Night

It doesn't get any better than the expression on a child's face after a whiz bang experiment is conducted (and then explained) before their very eyes.

That's what keeps the Lab's Bryan Balazs going when it comes to volunteering for outreach activities within the American Chemical Society (ACS).

As chair of the ACS California Section, Balazs, who also serves as associate program leader for B Program within the Weapons and Complex Integration Principal Associate Directorate, says he takes time out of his busy schedule for educational and public outreach.

"It has to be important to you and when it's important to you, you make the time," he said. "It allows you to take the fun and excitement of the things you do at the Lab and bring it to the public."

Within the California Section of the ACS, there are several major outreach programs that bring science to students and communities that wouldn't ordinarily have much exposure to science. It administers one of the largest Summer Education for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) programs within the ACS, providing several dozen low-income high school students to gain valuable summer experiences in research facilities within the California section, such as the National Labs, and other corporate research centers.

"I'm passionate about science," Balazs said. "If kids are just exposed to it, they will find more interest in it."

Whether it's the California section's twice-yearly Family Science Nights, which can attract more than 1,000 participants, to the group's activities with Earth Day, National Chemistry Week, Expanding Your Horizons, participation in Bay Area science fairs (including the Tri Valley Science and Engineering Fair) or Science Cafes, which are open to the general public, "I and a great number of other volunteers in our section have been working to bring the fascination and relevance of science to the general public," Balazs said. "One of my goals as 2011 chair is to maintain our momentum, and this is timely for the ACS, as 2011 is the UN-designated International Year of Chemistry."

Family Science Nights are one of the great successes, according to Balazs. At least two times out of the year, ACS members go to underserved middle and high schools in the East Bay area to bring science to the students. While many of the schools don't have large science programs, Balazs said bringing the science to them is what gets many of the students as well as their parents interested. Teachers also benefit, as many would not otherwise have an opportunity to bring scientists in to speak to their students.

"We take over the school for the night," he said, doing demonstrations such as making slime and making ice cream from liquid nitrogen. "When you go to these events, you can't get the kids to go home at the end of the night because they are so excited."

The California Section also awards education grants to needy high schools and smaller colleges for laboratory equipment and educational materials, and is looking to partner with other professional and civic organizations, such as other Bay Area science societies or entities such as Rotary International, to help leverage its offerings.

If you are interested in volunteering for any of the local events, contact Balazs at 423-5403.


Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.