The SDL experience

Families join workers to see what really happens at work

By Tyler Riggs
The Herald Journal
June 18, 2004

Thursday's workday at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab was full of rocket launches, treasure hunts and liquid nitrogen.

The families of SDL employees were invited to join their mothers, fathers, wives and husbands at work Thursday. The experience for the families was rare, as security is high at SDL.

"Being a facility that is under security controls, rarely can family members come and walk freely and learn from the engineers," SDL Human Resources Manager Melanie Pond said. "We wanted to make an opportunity for our family members ... to come here and learn what we do and find out all the cool things that we live and breathe every day."

Five stations with various activities were set up for the families. They were able to view, launch, find, live and cool the SDL experience with presentations on a computer imagery and data compression system, rocket launches, a Global Positioning Satellite treasure hunt, food growth chambers and human space exploration, and liquid nitrogen.

"I think it's fascinating," said USU Research Foundation employee Lola Jean Bolton, who brought her 16-year-old son John to work. "We get to see what other areas are doing within the foundation and then get to share it with our kids."

John Bolton, who said he wants to be a mechanical engineer, said his favorite demonstration was the one on liquid nitrogen.

SDL employee Steve Dansie ran the nitrogen exhibit. Dansie would freeze air-filled balloons in the cold liquid, then show the participants how they re-inflate after the air in the balloons is frozen.

The day turned out to be a big learning experience for many who attended, like Allison Fife, a sixth-grader at Cedar Ridge Middle School.

"(I learned that) the GPS shows your latitude and longitude and can also show how fast you (are traveling), and the stuff for rockets is really expensive and hard to make," she said. "I really liked the rocket launching. It was cool."

Mark Wilkinson, the SDL employee who ran the activity, told the kids that safety is very important when launching model rockets.

"Dangerous stuff is cool only if you're safe about it," Wilkinson said. "(Safety is) a lot better than the doctor bills and permanent maiming."

Besides giving family members an opportunity to see where loved ones work, the event was designed to get kids excited about engineering and science.

"We actually have a looming crisis in the United States of being short of engineers and scientists," SDL Deputy Director Harry Ames said. "We're not turning them out at the rate we need to turn them out to stay on the cutting edge of technology."

Pond said the event hopefully planted a seed for love of engineering and science in the kids' minds that will bloom in the future as they choose careers.

Based on the smiles and excitement on attendees' faces, Pond said, the day was a success.

Allison Fife's father, Lance, said he thought the day was a good experience for his family.

"I don't think (my family) had much of an idea of what I did here," he said. "(Now) they have a better feel for what I do."

Copyright © 2004 The Herald Journal. Logan, Utah