May 21, 2020

Digital STEM Outreach Takes Center Stage

Lab moves activities and resources online to maintain connections

STEM Ambassador Charmayne Lonergan at a traditional on-site STEM outreach event in a school classroom surrounded by students.

PNNL STEM Ambassador Charmayne Lonergan would typically visit local classrooms to introduce students to the science of waste vitrification. When schools moved online, so did her STEM outreach.

Andrea Starr | PNNL

It’s May 14. Typically, PNNL Materials Scientist and STEM Ambassador Charmayne Lonergan would be planning for an upcoming classroom visit or local STEM event. She’d set up her poster on waste vitrification—the process of using glass to trap nuclear waste—and prepare her hands-on display of molecular models representing glassy and crystalline structures along with a set of green glass samples. Instead, she’s watching her debut on Instagram TV (IGTV), which has already garnered more than 440 views.

“I love the ability to engage with people face-to-face at in-person events, but this IGTV session showed us that recorded engagements can allow us to be quite versatile and adaptable,” said Lonergan. “It proves PNNL’s passion for outreach is greater than the challenges we’re facing.”

Knowing schools and events would be disrupted for an unknown duration, PNNL worked quickly to move several STEM resources online and to roll out a STEM campaign via its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels. Lonergan’s IGTV video was part of that campaign.

“Our STEM Ambassadors enjoy being out in the community, and we were pleased to find a way to facilitate that connection when many onsite opportunities were derailed due to COVID-19,” said Evangelina Shreeve, director of PNNL’s Office of STEM Education.

PNNL uploaded its STEM Ambassador tabletop posters to its website, designed new posts depicting their work for use on social media, created a new STEM Education YouTube playlist, and heavily promoted the Team Battelle Math Tutors—a weekly online homework session connecting teens and parents to some of PNNL’s most brilliant math minds.

Instagram TV—long format video—allows for more detailed content. In Lonergan’s IGTV segment, she didn’t just talk about her work in materials science, she answered questions that were previously submitted via social media by students, teachers, and community members. It was so successful that PNNL is planning additional IGTV segments with researchers, including Senior Data Scientist and Mathematician Emilie Purvine and Electrical Engineer Seemita Pal.

In her Instagram TV segment, Lonergan answered questions that were submitted in advance via PNNL's social media channels.

PNNL’s STEM education team hopes to see public outreach resume as soon as it’s safe, and researchers look forward to returning to classrooms and community events. Even so, the lab will continue to populate its website and social media channels with STEM videos, tools, and resources.

“This situation has forced us to be a little more creative with our STEM outreach, and the more creative we are, the more people we can reach,” said Shreeve. “Adding these robust digital and social media components has been great for our program, and fun for our researchers.”

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About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: May 21, 2020