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Brookhaven National Lab's Summer Sunday tours

Hands-on events offer rare look inside research facility.

Madison Hennings, 6, of Manhattan learns about static

Madison Hennings, 6, of Manhattan learns about static electricity at the Science Learning Center at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of the world’s premier research institutions, looks more like an especially busy elementary school science fair this Sunday afternoon.

School-age kids are watching a magic show in the lab’s Berkner Hall auditorium, making origami in its Math Art Room and waiting to catch a shuttle to the Science Learning Center’s interactive exhibits.

It’s the first of four Summer Sunday programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s cutting-edge Upton facility where thousands of scientists and a $600 million annual budget are trying to crack the universe’s physics mysteries.

It’s also an educational day out for Naomi Escobar, 34, her husband, Alex, 33, and their children, Kenya, 10, and Desmond, 8. The Patchogue family was among 1,000 visitors enjoying a rare opportunity to tour BNL, which is generally closed to the public.

“It’s wonderful to have the laboratory in our backyard, and to be able to expose the kids to this level of science,” Escobar, a Suffolk BOCES speech therapist, said as a static electricity exhibit made Kenya’s hair stand on end.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

Last year, 5,000 people attended Summer Sundays, and this year’s series is expected to draw an equal number of visitors, says David Manning, the lab's director of external affairs.  

In the remaining programs on July 29 and Aug. 5, visitors can see “billions of dollars' worth of equipment,” including an atom smasher and one of the world’s most powerful microscopes. Manning says the space is “the only facility in the U.S. where tourists can see this kind of high-level government science research. Even if you’re only a little bit curious, this is an amazing place.”  

The tour begins at Berkner Hall, the location of a cafeteria and rooms for meetings and educational seminars. “This is a heavy concrete building in the brutalist-style architecture of 1950 to 1970,” says program coordinator Kahille Dorsinvil, who greets visitors.

In the lobby, an exhibit informs visitors that the lab's 5,300 acres are the former site of the U.S. Army’s Camp Upton, a World War I training facility where a young soldier named Irving Berlin wrote an early draft of “God Bless America.” 

Some Summer Sundays include a guided tour to the lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II or Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). Buses also run from Berkner Hall to the Science Learning Center, where kids can play on exhibits such as a model maglev train track.  

“This is priceless,” says Elizabeth Hennings of Manhattan, who regularly attends Summer Sundays with her children, Madison, 6, and Alex, 4.

“Last year we went to see the RHIC, and this year were trying to see as much as we can,” Hennings says. “It’s a great opportunity to plant a seed about how things work and spark their curiosity about the outside world.”

SUMMER SUNDAYS AT BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-3 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 5 at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton

INFO 631-344-2651, bnl.gov

ADMISSION Free. Check in at the main gate. Guests 16 and older are required to present photo ID.

UPCOMING TOPICS

July 29: See how much science $1 billion buys.

The “Bright Light, Dazzling Discoveries” program showcases BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source II, which cost $1 billion. The giant microscope is one of the world’s most powerful magnifiers, according to scientists. It has X-ray eyes that, like Superman, can see through metal, and creates some of the brightest light ever seen on the planet, says lab external affairs director David Manning. A laser light show is also part of the day’s activities.

Aug. 5: The Big Bang Theory (no, not the TV show)

The “Atom-Smashing Fun” tour stops at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a circular particle accelerator that measures 2.4 miles around. Scientists are using RHIC to create the second-highest temperatures ever recorded by man — literally 7 trillion degrees. RHIC is exploring matter as it existed milliseconds after the Big Bang. It also tells scientists more about protons, the subatomic particles behind MRI technology, Manning says.  

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