I was able to visit “the other Washington,” my actual home state of Washington during the first week of April. Coinciding with my grandmother's 90th birthday celebration, I planned a trip to check in with my home school district and visit the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL). The PNNL is located in Richmond, which is east of the Cascade mountains, about a three hour drive from where I live in a suburb of Seattle. I had never visited the lab, so I was excited to have the opportunity via the Einstein Fellowship.
The PNNL has a staff of 4500 people, who work together with a multidisciplinary approach to solve “big problems.” The lab prides itself on maintaining solid partnerships with academic, industrial and government stakeholders while focusing on four scientific missions:
My visit of the lab focused on the biological and computational sciences. I was amazed by by visualization and interaction studio. According to the documentation I was provided, the studio features the work of a team of, “visual analytics researchers who love making big, complex data useful through great visual design, compelling interaction, support for sound analytic methods, and solid engineering. We invent new visual metaphors, create analysis algorithms, and deliver software products that put useful analytic capabilities into our users’ hands.” I was able to interact with some of the data visualization tools, such as the Visual Patent Search, data mining challenges, active data canvases and virtual reality interfaces. My favorite experience was being able to use virtual reality to zoom and manipulate biological molecules. I honestly felt my life was complete after I had “walked” through a DNA strand.
As with the other Department of Energy national labs, the PNNL hosts interns from various educational experiences and backgrounds. I had the pleasure of meeting two high school students who are interning at the facility; one in a soil bacteria lab and the other in a 3D microscopy imaging lab. The students shared their interests and work with me, and I was once again reminded of the incredible impact that “real life” experiences and learning have on high school students. In my experience, the students are clamoring for opportunity to engage in scientific research. Unfortunately the limiting reagent seems to be the number of scientists and/or research facilities who are willing to engage with high school student internships.
I am looking forward to sharing what I learned at the PNNL with my students when I return to the classroom next fall.