Interactive program beams scientists into the classroom

June 15, 2012

Interactive program beams scientists into the classroom

Linda A Lucchetti,, 925-422-5815
When Tracy High School science teacher Dean Reese invited Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists to present a lesson to his students, all he had to do was plug in the television monitor in his classroom.

That's because the Lab's Sonia Wharton and Jeff Mirocha presented a remote science lesson about wind energy that was broadcast live from the Lawrence Livermore Television Network (LLTN) studio directly to Reese'e physics class at Tracy High School, some 20 miles away.

Since Wharton and Mirocha, scientists for the Lab's wind energy project, work out in the field, the videoconferencing capability used to transmit the lesson was an effective and easy way to bring the scientists and students together.

The remote lesson was one of two conducted at Tracy High School in April and part of a collaborative effort by LLNL's science education program and school districts. Dubbed "Scientists in the Classroom," the program was first launched as a pilot in 2010 to enhance standard science instruction while bridging the gap between classrooms and the Lab.

Wharton and Mirocha displayed viewgraphs and showed a video, along with asking questions of the students during their nearly 1-hour discussion about green renewable sources such as wind that can help meet the world's energy needs. They explained how modern wind turbines can harness the wind for future energy and which types of turbines are the most efficient based on structure, types and numbers of blades, and variables of weather and atmospheric stability at various wind farm locations. They also described how scientists at LLNL use computer simulations and atmospheric modeling to better understand wind energy.

With the help of funding through the DOE, Wharton distributed wind turbine kits to Reese's students prior to the lesson. Five groups of students researched various types of wind turbines to determine the most efficient, and then set out to engineer their own small scale prototype based on their findings.

Following the scientists' presentation, a student representative from each of the teams conducted a hi-tech "show and tell" demonstrating their prototypes to Wharton and Mirocha back at the Lab.

Wharton found the ingenuity of the students remarkable. "The students had some good ideas about wind turbines based on their work," she said.

Reese, who also is the science department chairperson for Tracy High School, is delighted with the capability of the remote lesson and the enthusiasm he saw from his students. "We hope to have as many future conversations with Lab scientists as possible," he said. "With most textbooks out of date by about 10 years, students benefit from seeing and hearing about the state-of-the-art science coming from LLNL."

"The fact that we can communicate with the scientists this far away is great," student Yousof Osman said after the lesson.

"This gives us exposure to the kind of presentation that is the wave of the future," student Jonathan Abney added.

The equipment used for the remote lesson and the teleconferencing capability was funded through the Tracy Unified School District as well as from a gift of LLNS, the company that manages the Livermore Lab.

Are you a Lab scientist who is interested in reaching out to students through "Scientists in the Classroom?" Contact Richard Farnsworth, Science Education Program manager.