Science on Saturday

Science on Saturday is a series of science lectures for middle and high school students. Each topic highlights cutting-edge science occurring at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The talks are presented by LLNL scientists in collaboration with local area high school science teachers. These presentations are offered in several locations. Admission is free of charge. Seating is on a first-come first-served basis.

Location: Grand Theater Center for the Arts (Tracy, CA)

September 22, 2018, 10AM
The Evolution of Computing Technologies: From Following Instructions to Learning

LLNL Scientist: Katherine Lewis
Teacher: Rodger Johnson, Monte Vista HS

Abstract: At LLNL, supercomputers have been used to model complex scientific phenomena for decades. Now, scientists are entering a new era in computing, and computers are learning in a way that is similar to how the human brain learns. With enough information, computers can learn to solve problems in novel and interesting ways. Specialized computers can even solve these problems using significantly less energy than "classical" computers, proving to be environmentally friendly while working on science! This talk will describe using supercomputers to solve challenging problems and the evolving technologies of learning systems.

Katherine Lewis received a B.S. in Mathematics, with a minor in Computer Science, from the University of San Francisco in 1998. She began her career at LLNL in June of 1998, in the field of massively parallel mesh generation. Katie has held several positions at LLNL, including both technical and administrative leadership positions. She is currently the Division Leader for the Applications, Simulations, and Quality (ASQ) Division in the Computation Associate Directorate and leads technical efforts combining simulations and machine learning.

Rodger Johnson teaches physics and chemistry at Monte Vista High School. Rodger graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in English and then studied physical sciences at CSU East Bay. He has been teaching physics and chemistry in the East Bay for more than 25 years. His first computer was a Commodore and over the years he has programmed in BASIC, Pascal, C, C++, and Java. In addition to teaching, Rodger is the adviser for Monte Vista’s FRC robotics team.

October 6, 2018, 10AM
Biomedical Accelerator Mass Spectrometry: Improving

Human Health One Atom at a Time
LLNL Scientist: Mike Malfatti
Teacher: Katherine Huang, Dougherty Valley HS

Abstract: Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is a sensitive method for detecting and quantifying rare long-lived isotopes with high precision. This technique is widely employed in the earth and environmental sciences and is now being applied in the biomedical fields to investigate the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of radiolabeled drugs, chemicals, and nutrients, as well as in the detection of chemically modified DNA and proteins in animal models and humans. Recent advances in the AMS technology at LLNL have allowed for greater sensitivity enabling the use of lower radioisotope and chemical doses, which are imperative for clinical testing. The ability to perform in-human studies has allowed AMS technology to become a valuable tool for the biomedical sciences.

Michael Malfatti is a Senior Biomedical Scientist at LLNL. He received his Ph.D. in Pharmacology/Toxicology from the Physical and Life Sciences Division at UC Davis. His current research includes characterizing the low-dose pharmacokinetic, metabolic, and biodistributive properties of toxicants and potential drug leads using accelerator mass spectrometry in an effort to understand their mechanisms of action. Other focus areas include studying the toxic and/or carcinogenic effects of small molecules in subcellular, cellular, and animal models to determine how these effects relate to human cancer susceptibility.

Katherine Huang teaches Honors Anatomy and Physiology, and Accelerated Biotechnology and Research at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon. She received her B.S. in Biology at UCLA and MAT at UC Irvine. She also works in the Science Education Program at LLNL, having instructed the Waksman Student Scholars Program, which works closely with Rutgers University, to sequence novel duckweed DNA in hopes of discovering proteins for uses such as bioremediation.


Location: The Chabot Space and Science Center (Oakland, CA)

October 20, 2018, 2PM
Laser-Plasma Accelerators: Riding the Wave to the Next
Generation X-ray Light

LLNL Scientist: Felicie Albert
Teacher: Dan Burns, Los Gatos HS

Abstract: In a particle accelerator, electromagnetic fields accelerate charged particles, such as electrons or ions, to velocities nearing the speed of light. Current particle accelerators are limited by size and cost, restricting access to the broader scientific community. A plasma is a neutral medium composed of negatively charged free electrons and positively charged ions. Plasma accelerators, particularly laser wakefield accelerators, can sustain electrical fields three orders of magnitude higher than that in conventional accelerators and hold promise to revolutionize applications in medicine, industry, and basic science.

Félicie Albert is an experimental plasma physicist at LLNL. She earned a Ph.D. in Physics in 2007 from the Ecole Polytechnique in France, an M.S. in Optics from the University of Central Florida in 2004, and a B.S. in Engineering from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Physique de Marseille, France, in 2003. Her areas of interest include the generation and applications of novel sources of electrons, x-rays, and gamma-rays through laser–plasma interaction, laser–wakefield acceleration, and Compton scattering.

Dan Burns has been teaching Earth and Space Science and AP Physics at Los Gatos High School since 1992. He is the LGHS science department chair and past president of the Northern California/Nevada American Association of Physics Teachers. He has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois. He has worked on curriculum development and teacher workshops for the SETI Institute, the Unite States Geological Survey, NASA, the American Association of Physics Teachers, LLNL, and San Jose State University.

November 10, 2018, 2PM
Biomolecular Action Movie: Flash Imaging with X-ray lasers

LLNL Scientist(s): Megan Shelby and Matthias Frank
Teacher: Erin McKay, Tracy HS

AbstractProteins are nature's machines whose function depend on the structural arrangement of its atoms, which was, until recently, only possible to measure statically, in easily crystallized samples via conventional X-ray diffraction. Using ultra-bright, ultrafast X-ray pulses of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs), a new type of X-ray source, allows for the measurement of proteins in action and the generation of "molecular movies", even for proteins that only produce small crystals. Once a reaction is triggered, X-ray pulses record "frames" as the protein's structure evolves.

Matthias Frank is a senior staff scientist at LLNL and an adjunct professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at UC Davis. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics and the Technical University of Munich in 1993. He is currently working on technologies for dynamical imaging of biomolecules with x-ray free-electron lasers as well as on instrumentation and methods for the analysis of aerosol particles, single cells, trace gases and exhaled breath for applications in homeland security and biomedicine.

Megan Shelby is a postdoctoral fellow at LLNL. She received a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 2016 from Northwestern University. She received a B.S. in Chemical Biology from the College of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. Prior to joining LLNL, she was a researcher in the Biosciences Division at LBNL where she studied photosynthetic proteins with x-ray spectroscopy. She is currently developing new methods for fixed-target serial femtosecond crystallography at XFELs to investigate membrane protein structure.

Erin M. McKay is a Biology teacher at Tracy High School in Tracy, CA. She received her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Plant Biology in 2001 and her science teaching credential in 2002 from UC Davis. While attending UC Davis, she interned at AgraQuest. She began teaching at Tracy High School in 2002. She also is an instructor in the Bioscience Teacher Research Academy and Biotechnology Summer Experience for high school students at LLNL.


Past Science on Saturday presentations can be viewed at the University of California Television network. 

The history of the Science on Saturday program topics and presenters are cataloged (an updated link coming soon).