On a recent morning, Thom Mason, Los Alamos National Laboratory leaders and Los Alamos County partners gathered at the White Rock Visitor Center to celebrate the launch of Challenge Tomorrow, a new traveling educational outreach and community engagement program.
Think of it as “LANL: The road trip.”
Challenge Tomorrow comprises two themed trailers, Discovery and Mission Ops. Once pandemic conditions allow, these will travel to schools, fairs and recruitment events throughout the state.
Launching the Lab-on-wheels
Providing an interactive “Lab-on-wheels” experience, the program encourages the general public to learn about the range of LANL’s research and career opportunities.
An initiative of the Community Partnerships Office, a core team at the Bradbury Science Museum developed Challenge Tomorrow for nearly two years, throughout lockdown and the pandemic’s volatility. The launch was an exciting conclusion to their work, and featured Mason as the keynote speaker. Laboratory volunteers — including Matt Quintana, Cathy Babcock and Benigno Sandoval — gave guests previews of the trailers’ hands-on elements, like the glovebox and block-stacking manipulator arm. These Challenge Tomorrow Ambassadors wore the program’s signature bright orange jackets to match the trailers’ eye-popping graphics. Sandoval even wore complementing orange shoes for the occasion.
Oak Ridge connection
The organizers modeled it off of a successful traveling program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with which Mason was very familiar from his time in Tennessee. “[At Oak Ridge National Laboratory] people told me, ‘I visited the Lab when I was a kid, and that’s why I work here today.’” Similar to LANL, the organizers at ORNL had restrictions on public access and developed a traveling outreach program to “take the Lab to the students,” said Mason.
He added with a smile, “Sometimes it’s smart to borrow a good idea — or even do it one better. The Challenge Tomorrow trailers have a lot of pizzazz.”
Mason hopes that the Challenge Tomorrow experience will be a similar catalyst for modeling potential career paths for young New Mexicans. “We want them to know that no matter what you’re good at or what you’re interested in, there’s something for you to do here.”
In each trailer, visitors will be able to explore different areas of the Lab’s ongoing work. They’ll investigate quantum dots, the tech behind the Mars rover, environmental research and more. Visitors will also interact with the Challenge Tomorrow Ambassadors. The Bradbury’s director, Linda Deck, stresses that visitors will be able to engage with representatives from all specialties across the Lab.
“We welcome physicists and financial analysts, wildlife biologists and science writers — anyone who is proud of their work and eager to connect with the public. We want to showcase the diverse professions, people and opportunities that drive this leading national security laboratory,” Deck said to the crowd.
The Challenge Tomorrow program will hit the road in 2022. For updates, keep your eye on the Bradbury Science Museum's website in the coming months.