Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Sydney Shelton

Los Alamos High School graduate gains valuable hands-on student experience

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Sydney Shelton

Student intern shines light on sustainability through pilot project


The LANL Student Programs benefits both the Lab and its students through meaningful hands-on experiences, such as the LED pilot project at building 1 of Technical Area 53. Led largely by Sydney Shelton, a student with the Undergraduate Student Program and a recent graduate of Los Alamos High School, the project is designed to test the usability and impact of a sustainable alternative to the everyday lightbulb—light-emitting diode (LED) lights.

“I think my project shows how the Lab creates amazing opportunities for students,” Shelton says. “It has shown me how much knowledge there is to gain, and I’ve been surprised at how willing everyone is to help students. I’ve had a great experience with the student program, and I’ve learned so much.”

Supported by the Pollution Prevention Program in the Associate Directorate for Environment, Safety, and Health as well as TA-53 Engineering Services and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) Facility Operations Director, the project has given Shelton hands-on experience with a real-world application during her time as student at the Lab.

Sprouting from Pollution Prevention Program leader Terry Foecke’s curiosity about the true cost and energy return of alternative lighting sources at large organizations such as the Lab, the pilot project turned into a student assignment to research how and where LEDs could be viable and potentially valuable at the Lab. However, Shelton’s research sparked something larger, with the promise to be longer lasting.

The pilot

From preliminary research, Shelton learned that the claimed return of using LEDs to replace the existing lighting is based largely on industry testing rather than real-life applications. The lack of real-world data presented an opportunity to add to the research-based conversation, as well as to ensure that Lab engages in evidence-based “green purchasing” - the commitment to acquiring environmental and sustainable products put forward by U.S. Department of Energy.

At TA-53 the desire to upgrade the outdoor lighting was already in place, presenting the ideal location for the pilot project. Scaled to ensure that Shelton could follow the project through before leaving for college in the fall, the pilot encompassed replacing and monitoring 42 light fixtures at TA-53’s building 1.

A collaborative effort with TA-53’s Facilities Operations Director and the Pollution Prevention Program, the pilot is being executed in several phases. After a pre-upgrade metering, LEDs replaced the designated 42 high-pressure sodium bulbs. The effort, overseen by Shelton, is now gathering several weeks of data on the LEDs’ energy consumption. The collected data will then be compared with industry statements that LEDs can reduce energy consumption by 75 percent. Shelton is completing a report that will not only outline the energy savings, but also discuss the many other reasons for an upgrade to LEDs, such as increased light quality and decreased maintenance hours.

“The project is much more scientific than routine maintenance is,” Shelton says. “What we are working to do is either prove or disprove the standing hypothesis that LEDs are the best lighting option for the Lab. This data has the ability to maximize the Lab’s energy efficiency and help with other research such as studies of night-sky light pollution, which affects our surrounding communities.”

This LED project is just one of many projects the Lab’s sustainability subject matter experts and the Pollution Prevention Program are working at this time.

“To use the cliché: an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure,” says Planning and Monitoring team leader Jim Stanton. “Pollution prevention efforts at the Lab are centered on taking any steps we can to minimize our impact on the environment and our surrounding community and to maximize the energy and resources that go towards the larger mission work.”

The student experience

The LED pilot project promises lasting benefit that extends beyond green purchasing. Shelton’s project has presented the opportunity for a valuable hands-on student experience.

“The project has exposed Sydney to the detailed work process of implementing a project from concept through design, procurement, installation and closeout,” says Zahid Khan, group leader for LANSCE Facilities Operations–Engineering Services. “It has also shown her how you can have a project benefit both you and the place it is intended.”

This pilot project and the opportunity it offers for fostering autonomy and competence serve as an example of a meaningful student experience.

“How many high school students get the chance to make a meaningful difference at a national laboratory?” Stanton asks. “What Sydney is experiencing, from real-world experience to the feeling of being completely engaged in a project, is exactly what the Lab wants for all of its students. If we can give this type of empowerment and momentum to all of them, then the Lab and the country will have a very bright future.”

It takes a village

At the base of this project is teamwork and support across the varying levels of the Laboratory. From cross-organizational collaboration to worker, student, and management engagement, this pilot project is highlighting opportunity in a many ways.

“My strong relationship with the team and the support of my management are why this project is happening,” Shelton says.

“It is through these types of experiences that student mentors at the Lab guide young adults to fashion a career path that they can be passionate about,” says LANL Student Programs manager Scott Robbins. “Giving students the chance to assume responsibility for solving genuine problems helps them grow as leaders while helping the Lab to achieve its scientific and operational objectives from a new framework.”

The Lab community is very open to helping students, and that willingness leads directly to better learning opportunities, for everyone!” Foecke says. “In Sydney's case, she became part of a team and experienced all the realities of a large project, and her colleagues benefited from having a fresh perspective as well as the opportunity to be open to new ideas and approaches.  Sydney and her project are a prime example of how with the right project and support, students can be major contributors to the Lab’s success.”