As a physicist for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, Stephanie Maruca Donnelly spends a lot of time in a laboratory, but in her free time, she performs science demonstrations at schools, libraries and community events. Maruca Donnelly hopes her demonstrations will spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the children.
“I enjoy working with early elementary students the most. In my experience, they are the perfect age to be excited about science, and they tend to be the most engaged in experiments and demonstrations. I love when students ask questions and try to infer what’s truly happening in a demonstration that may seem like ‘magic,’” Maruca Donnelly said.
The science demonstrations range from making 4-foot-long kaleidoscopes, to liquifying oxygen with nitrogen to see how they react.
“Hands-on demonstrations allow students to really appreciate and engage in science. I hope my demonstrations will get children interested in science and math, which will help build the next generation of STEM professionals,” Maruca Donnelly said.
In addition to science demonstrations, Maruca Donnelly also mentors a For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST Robotics, team at Morris County School of Technology in New Jersey. She started mentoring the team, which includes students in ninth through 12th grades, in 2021. The team meets two to three times each week during the building phase, when they design, build and program an industrial-size robot.
FIRST Robotics is a team-based program for 4-18-year-old children that encourages interest in STEM through hands-on learning. The teams raise funds, design a team brand, and build industrial-sized robots that compete against each other. The teams compete at local and regional events for awards and a spot in the FIRST Championship.
Maruca Donnelly recruits other physicists from the DEVCOM AC Photonics and Quantum Science Laboratory where she works to conduct science demonstrations in the community. She has created STEM outreach kits that contain supplies and instructions on how to conduct the science demonstrations for her coworkers.
“The outreach kits focus on optical science, which is my field of expertise. The kits contain supplies for simple optics demonstrations that can be set up with minimal preparation time, so even the busiest engineers and scientists can participate in STEM outreach events,” Maruca Donnelly said.
Her advice to anyone who is interested in volunteering for STEM activities is to ask for help when necessary.
“Conducting your first event can be overwhelming, so ask a colleague for help,” Maruca Donnelly recommends.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, is home to thousands of Army scientists, engineers, technicians and analysts working around the globe to leverage cutting-edge technologies and empower the American warfighter with the data and abilities to see, sense, make decisions and act faster than our adversaries – today and in the future.
As part of Army Futures Command, DEVCOM takes calculated risks to find new technological solutions each day. Our experts drive innovation, improve existing technologies and engineer solutions to technical challenges. Our work goes beyond theory to simulation and prototyping. We take potential science and technology solutions from the lab “into the dirt” for experimentation alongside Army Soldiers. DEVCOM prides itself as a global ecosystem of innovators, from world-class universities and large defense contractors, to small, minority-owned businesses and international allies and partners.