Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience Premiers With Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason and Bradbury Science Museum Director Linda Deck struggle to cut the ribbon at the premier of the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience’ Tuesday at the White Rock Visitor Center. The scissors were apparently large but not very sharp. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

LANL Staff Director Frances Chadwick, left, listens to LANL Technical Staff member Jennifer Cline Tuesday in one of the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow’ trailers. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Some of the equipment on board the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow’ Discovery trailer. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Attendees applaud following the ribbon cutting ceremony at White Rock Visitor Center. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

LANL Director Thom Mason shows his glovebox skills to the Los Alamos Reporter. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

LANL Director Thom Mason speaks at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting event for the two ‘Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience’ trailers at White Rock Visitor Center. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


There was an air of excitement Tuesday morning at the White Rock Visitor Center as Bradbury Science Museum executive director Linda Deck and Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason conducted a ribbon cutting ceremony for two trailers that are part of the “Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience.

The two mobile exhibits have been developed to travel around New Mexico to festivals, STEM events, schools and universities. They contain experiential components that will be explained by Lab staff to help people both adults and children learn what happens at LANL, who does the work as well as why and how they do it.

Deck noted that those present at Tuesday’s event would experience what it will be like to engage with Challenge ambassadors and learn what a visitor will experience when they go through trailers which provide an opportunity to learn more about the work of LANL.

“It literally takes thousands of jobs to do the work of the Lab and we welcome them all – physicists and financial analysts, wildlife biologists and science writers – anyone who is proud of their work and eager to connect with the public. This program will showcase the diverse professions, people and opportunities that drive this leading national security laboratory,” Deck said.

Mason said that sometimes it’s okay to steal ideas from others and this idea was stolen from Oak Ridge. He said the way it came about was about 10 years ago, the state of Tennessee made some changes to their rules for field trips and it was no longer possible for schools to do field trips where they would collect money from students to help pay for the field trips.

“The reason for making the change I think was well-intentioned because it placed an unfair burden on kids who didn’t have the money to pay and they felt bad that they couldn’t pay. The by-product of it was that all field trips were basically stopped because the schools had no resources to do field trips,” he said.

Oak Ridge had a tradition of people coming from schools in the surrounding areas to visit the facility usually in the spring when the school year was beginning to wind down.

“The Oak Ridge Lab had been doing that forever. I would bump into people who would say, ‘I visited the Lab when I was in school and that’s why I became an engineer’. They used to give out radioactive nickels  – that was the thing in the day. If you came on a field trip, you’d get a nickel that had been irradiated in one of the reactors. That wasn’t happening 10 years ago, but if you came in the 60s you might get a radioactive nickel,” Mason said.

He said the group of staff that had been supporting the field trips decided there was a need to take the lab to the students and came up with what they called the Science Fair – not a science fair in the sense that of having a research project that they would stand beside, but a science fair van.

“Over time they built a collection of trailers and they traveled around the area and even went further afield including exhibits at the Mall in Washington, DC. So it became a kind of a way to take the lab out to the people,” Mason said.

Mason said when he came to Los Alamos National Laboratory, he realized that the argument for why that made sense for Oak Ridge is even stronger in Los Alamos because the nature of LANL’s work makes it even harder to bring people into the Lab.

“In the surrounding communities there’s a lot of mystery about what we do at Los Alamos up there on the mesa behind the fence. They don’t know what’s there – there’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty or suspicions about what might be going on so I think it’s good for us to be thinking about way – for many reasons – to talk to people about what we do. And it could be people in the community who don’t understand what it is. It could be students who are making decisions about what sort of career they might go into,” Mason said.

He pointed out that one of the trailers of focused on the mission areas of the Lab such as global securities and the other is more focused on missions operations.

“Part of the message of that is on the one hand, there are kids who will be inspired by science and engineering and that’s great, but there are a ton of other things at the Lab that people need help with as well, so no matter what you’re good or no matter what you’re interested in, there may be a place for you here. That’s a message that this exhibit can carry to the surrounding communities as kids are thinking about what they want to do and they can recognize that there’s something not far away that offers really interesting careers,” Mason said.

He said use of the Challenge vans will be limited due to the pandemic but that eventually this will be a way to really broaden the footprint of the Lab.

“I think if COVID conditions improve in the spring there are some options. We can start going out there We’ll probably learn what gets people excited and we can adjust from that. This is a great start and I appreciate everyone’s efforts,” Mason said.

LANL Government Affairs Specialist David Trujillo speaks with Los Alamos Commerce & Development Director Lauren McDaniel, center, and Kathy Keith, Director of the LANL Community Partnerships Office. at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting event. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Some LANL ‘gear’ on display in one of the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow’ trailers Tuesday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Linda Deck, Director of the Bradbury Science Museum, introduces LANL Director Thom Mason at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting event for the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience’. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

A waste drum on display in one of the ‘Challenge: Tomorrow’ trailers. Photo by Maire O’Neill/