Summer camp brings data to life for high school and undergrad students

Camp explores graphical representations of wildfire data

By Hannah Conrad | August 18, 2023

Sterlo Wildfire Camp Sm
Camp attendee Sterling Walter, an undergraduate studying secondary education at Diné College, a public tribal land-grant college in Tsaile, Arizona.

A key element to innovation is learning how to present technical data in ways that everyone can easily understand. Simulations and visualizations can breathe new life into scientific information through computational modeling — a picture really can be worth a thousand words.

For two weeks in July, 11 high school and undergraduate students from across the nation got to explore exactly these issues, as they joined 26 guest speakers and mentors from Los Alamos and other national labs at the virtual Wildfire Simulation and Data Visualization Camp, led by Laboratory scientists John Patchett, Rod Linn and Divya Banesh. 

The students received hands-on training in graphical data modeling and animation through Python and ParaView, creating visualizations based on datasets used at Los Alamos to study wildfires. In addition to software training, students also received information and mentorship on professional and career development opportunities at Los Alamos, including lessons on resumé and cover letter writing, as well as details and specialized support for finding internships at the Lab.

Mariana Sawyer, a high school student from Farmington, NM, who is interested in pursuing visualization and environmental sciences, said it was interesting to learn about the internship opportunities available for students at Los Alamos. The camp taught her how to apply physics equations and color theory to graphics and how computational modeling can help professionals mitigate and fight wildfires. 

“This camp really made me see the different ways that I can visualize the environment,” she says. “It also helped expose me to other students that were majoring in some sort of engineering. I feel that this camp deepened my interest in environmental studies through the visualizations.”

Sterling Walter, an undergraduate studying secondary education at Diné College, described how the camp taught him that visualization and simulation helps non-technical people understand specialized information. Walter is going into education, and he saw how simulation and the creation of visuals can play a role in high school teaching of scientific concepts.

“The camp gave me some great ideas for classroom lessons regarding computer science and concept modeling,” he says.

The camp was funded by the Laboratory and hosted jointly by the Lab’s Student Programs Office and the National Security Education Center’s Information Science and Technology Institute