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NETL Welcomes Cub Scouts Pursuing STEM Awards

More than a dozen young students experienced a one-of-a-kind adventure in science Friday, April 19, at NETL’s Morgantown, West Virginia, site.

While NETL often welcomes graduate students seeking knowledge and experience, the latest visitors sought a more tangible prize: the distinctive Nova award patch or Supernova award medal from Boy Scouts of America (BSA). As part of their efforts to earn the awards, 13 local Cub Scouts and their parents toured the site to learn about NETL’s work in multiphase computational fluid dynamics, high-efficiency hybrid power systems, solid oxide fuel cells and more.

Much like NETL’s K-12 STEM Education and Outreach program, BSA’s Nova awards program seeks to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through engaging activities. The Cubs of visiting Cub Scout Pack 52, Webelos I Den are working to earn their Nova and Supernova awards by completing BSA’s Adventures in Science activity. One of the six requirements is to visit a laboratory or related facility that employs scientists.

Don Ferguson, Ph.D., of the Lab’s Thermal Sciences Team, serves as assistant den leader and knew NETL would be a perfect fit.

“This is a unique opportunity for our Cubs to explore an active scientific laboratory that’s developing innovative energy technology solutions for their benefit,” Ferguson said. “The research we’re doing today will ensure their future prosperity by providing safe, affordable and reliable energy to meet their needs in the decades to come.”

Ferguson provided a brief overview of DOE and NETL, in addition to highlighting his work with the Lab’s High-Pressure Gas Turbine Combustion Facility. The test rig is used to gain insight into complex combustion processes as researchers seek to improve performance and evaluate new concepts.

The Cubs visited seven facilities during the two-hour tour, which highlighted the breadth of NETL’s energy research in a relatable, easy-to-understand way. For instance, Ferguson referred to Pixy Stix to explain how different phases of matter interact within a coal-fired power plant. Similar to the way a gas (air) mixes with a solid (sugar) when the Cubs blow through Pixy Stix, small particles of coal mix with air to burn efficiently at a power plant.

Among other stops, the students visited the Chemical Looping Reactor Facility, a pilot-scale reactor used to develop and refine transformational chemical looping technology for clean power generation; the Geological Sciences Lab, which features virtual reality tools that enable researchers to go underground as they explore physical phenomena; and JOULE, a supercomputer that ranks 23rd in the nation and accelerates energy technology development.

The Cubs’ visit supports NETL’s STEM education and outreach efforts, which aim to inspire and train future scientists, researchers and engineers. Through school visits, community events, educator workshops, online resources and internship opportunities, NETL is working to ensure that the next generation is prepared to pursue technology solutions to America’s energy challenges.