10 milestones of community connection in 2023

From a feature film movie to a back-to-school backpack drive, the Lab joined with Northern New Mexicans to cover a lot of ground

By Tricia Ware | February 5, 2024

The Lab's Challenge Tomorrow trailers connected 165 employee ambassadors with 3,100 middle- and high-school students across New Mexico.

As we head into 2024 in earnest, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at some of the ways the Laboratory connected with surrounding communities to be a force for good during 2023.

“We continue to be grateful for the support of our neighbors and the chance to work, live and grow as a community,” said Kathy Keith, director of the Laboratory’s Community Partnerships Office. “We look forward to finding more ways to support the region in 2024.”

Community Partnerships supports education, nonprofits and economic development in the seven counties surrounding the Laboratory: Los Alamos, Mora, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Taos. These are where the majority of the Laboratory’s 17,000 employees live as well. 

1. “Laboratory on wheels” goes the distance

Now in their second year, the Challenge Tomorrow trailers connected 165 employee ambassadors with 3,100 middle- and high-school students in 10 events across five New Mexico counties, including Capital High in Santa Fe, Española Valley High, Peñasco Independent Schools and Pojoaque Valley Middle School (shown above), plus five STEM fairs with statewide attendance. The trailers and ambassadors offer hands-on science and raise awareness about STEM careers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and beyond. See the Challenge Tomorrow Ambassadors in action.


2. “Oppenheimer” sparks banner year for science and history tourism

A certain summer feature film (and no, it wasn’t “Barbie”) led to unprecedented interest in the history and mission of Los Alamos National Laboratory this year. The Laboratory’s Bradbury Science Museum (1350 Central Avenue, Los Alamos, free and open Tuesday through Sunday), saw a 50% increase in visitors over the previous year to 45,023 — more than three times the population of the town of Los Alamos itself. At Fuller Lodge and the Los Alamos History Museum, buildings in use during the Manhattan Project that are now owned by Los Alamos County, visitors increased by 68% over the course of FY23, to a total of 22,993.


3. Higher-ed partnerships pave pathways to successful careers

Educating New Mexico students for in-demand careers at the Laboratory and beyond was a priority in 2023. Given this, the Lab added to its stable of partnerships with regional colleges and minority-serving institutions by establishing new programs or enhancing existing ones at the following: Northern New Mexico College in Española and El Rito (cybersecurity), Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint (hydrogen fuel cell development, pictured) and San Juan College in Farmington (computer science and information technology). The Lab also partners with Santa Fe Community College (machining), Northern New Mexico College in Española and El Rito (radiation protection), Luna Community College in Las Vegas, New Mexico (welding), New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM (accounting and finance) and University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (mechanical engineering).


4. Employees pay it forward with $839,000 in scholarships for Northern New Mexico students

In 2023, 110 scholars from across Northern New Mexico received support for their educations thanks to the Los Alamos Employees Scholarship Fund. The scholarships are largely funded by donations from Laboratory employees and are open to students across the region pursuing degrees in any field. The scholarships range from $1,000 for a single year up to $20,000 over four years. Recipients are selected based on a demonstrated commitment to academic achievement, leadership and service.


5. Computer science lifesavers rescue nonprofits drowning in data

Each year, Laboratory computer scientists donate their time in the annual New Mexico Community Data Sprint. The program helps nonprofits that have funding, large amounts of data and an impending need to use the data, but no way to interpret the data and strategize next steps. That’s when data scientists from the Lab step in by donating their time and technology to create order out of the chaos. This year, 14 researchers spent a week helping two area nonprofits, Twirl Taos (an educational play and discovery space serving families, pictured above) and Los Alamos-based Self Help, Inc., make their programs more effective and accessible.

Physics Camp

6. Summer camps hone students’ scientific survival skills

New Mexico students learn what it’s like to work in a laboratory through groundbreaking camps staffed by Lab experts in a variety of subjects. New this year, Wildfire Simulation and Data Visualization Camp, led by climate scientists John Patchett, Rod Linn and Divya Banesh, taught virtual campers how to use supercomputing to forecast wildfire spread and calculate safe timing for prescribed burns. More than 100 scientists, engineers and other experts from the Lab — 80 percent of them female — were the instructors for the free Summer Physics Camp for Young Women, in its seventh year. While focusing on physics, topics included robotics, coding, astronomy, college applications and internship opportunities. In 2023, the camp welcomed students from the counties of Santa Fe, San Miguel, Rio Arriba, Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Sandoval, McKinley, Lea and Mora and students from eight New Mexico pueblos: Zuni, Jemez, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Ohkay Owingeh, Navajo Nation, Santa Clara and Pojoaque.


7. $2.5 million in grants benefits area nonprofits, students and businesses

Economic diversity, education and community giving got a big boost this year, thanks to the Community Commitment Plan, a $2.5 million grant from Triad. Three key long-term partners received a total of more than $1.5 million: the LANL Foundation for STEM education, scholarships and teacher support; the Regional Development Corporation to support economic diversity, including an internship program and awards to small businesses; and United Way of Northern New Mexico to support nonprofit collaboration and capacity-building, and tackle substance abuse issues. The Triad investment was also used to match employees’ nonprofit-giving in Northern New Mexico. Additionally, more than $250,000 will fund a range of grants and sponsorships to other organizations in the region. All funds support eligible nonprofits from the seven counties around the Laboratory.

Fuller Lodge

8. Meeting of the minds shares innovation for the state and the nation

Eighty years after scientists gathered at Fuller Lodge as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, roughly 100 of today’s entrepreneurs, investors, journalists, Lab scientists and local leaders converged at the same spot for Los Alamos Demo Day — a series of in-person presentations from the Lab and New Mexico’s private sector on biotech, clean energy and space systems and their roles in national security science, which stretches beyond military applications to include the security of the country’s energy supply, food supply, environment, public health and economy. Economic development collaborations were on the schedule too, with information on the New Mexico Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program, the Feynman Center for Innovation and the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program.

Back to School

9. Providing tools for back-to-school

Last August, Lab employees donated $21,667 for school supplies, and more than 50 employee volunteers rolled up their sleeves to stuff more than 1,000 backpacks full of basics and deliver them to 22 area elementary and middle schools for students in need.

Adaptive Toys

10. Employees contribute $2.6 million to holiday giving campaign for charities, scholarships and toys for kids

The Laboratory’s participation in the annual Toy Drive may be the most visible part of the holiday giving campaign thanks to 34 employees volunteering to sort and deliver 1,924 gifts. However, the full campaign stretches even further, with $2.2 million in donations to nonprofits, $385,000 to the Los Alamos Employees Scholarship Fund and an additional $18,015 to buy even more toys. The monetary contributions to the Toy Drive will be used to purchase toys which, together with the donated toys, will be given to around 30 agencies for children and teens. The Lab is partnering with the nonprofit Northern New Mexico Toy Drive (established by Los Alamos-based EXIT Realty Advantage NM) again this year to purchase and distribute the gifts. New this year: Laboratory postdoc Jonathan Reynolds used a 3D printer and his engineering skills to modify toys for disabled children (above).