SD LabRats
Empowering youth to make a better world through science and technology.

LabRats Team


Our Team

Scientists Teaching Science


Dr. Shawn Carlson, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer

Dr. Shawn Carlson received a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and Applied Mathematics from UC Berkeley, a Master’s Degree in Physics and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from UCLA. After over 10 years of academic and field research examining how young people learn STEM, Dr. Carlson was integral in the development of a system of instruction called "Engagement Education,” designed to motivate students to gain authentic competency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. He was instrumental in building the modern citizen scientist movement and has been the creative force behind several educational and research programs which engaged both adults and children in authentic science. Throughout his six-year tenure as a columnist for Scientific American Magazine, readers enjoyed his monthly feature titled “The Amateur Scientist.” Dr. Carlson received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship Award for his contributions in science education and is currently working with the San Diego LabRats as a Teacher for labs and classes.


J. Ryan Merrill, Education Director

Ryan Merrill received his Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2015 where he conducted research in Organic Polymers under Professor Christopher Bowman. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013 where he conducted over 3 years of research on Mass Spectrometry and the Proteins in Type 2 Diabetes under Professor Michael Bowers.  Most recently, Ryan spent 2 years teaching a general chemistry class and labs at the University of Colorado and over 6 years tutoring for STEM-related classes. Currently, he is the Educational Director for LabRats developing curriculum, teaching labs, and conducting demonstrations and experiments for local youth.


Jesika Scott, Director of Marketing & Outreach

Jesika Scott received an Associate’s Degree in Math and Science from Palomar College in 2015. She then went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Science with an emphasis in Chemistry at California State University, San Marcos in the Spring of 2019. Jesika also previously conducted original research in the Organic Chemistry Lab at CSUSM on amide Synthesis which is in the publication process for the American Chemical Society (ACS). Currently she is the Director of Marketing & Outreach here at San Diego LabRats, where she creates class curriculum and marketing content, helps run the San Diego LabRats Discovery Center, and teaches the Enrichment Courses along side Ryan and Shawn.



Student Leaders/Assistant Teachers


Amelia Burns

Amelia is currently a high school junior at Canyon Crest Academy. She has been a member of CCA’s FIRST Robotics Competition Team, 3128 for the past three years, where she works with her team to design and create robots using CAD software and machinery, analyze strategy, and attend competitions as the team's coach. Amelia also mentors FIRST Lego League teams around San Diego and has enjoyed working as a counselor at the Aluminum Narwhals’ Robotics Summer Camp in the summertime. Amelia has worked on several other outreach events aimed at teaching students and the community about robotics, one of which included working at elementary and middle schools in Panama City. She is also a part of the CCA Solar Army, a club that conducts research and runs extensive testing on a variety of metal oxide combinations to collect data on their ability to split water using sunlight. From her experiences related to STEAM, she has discovered an interest in studying bioengineering in the future. Amelia’s attention to detail and passion for inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers makes her a valuable part of the San Diego LabRats team.



Heidi Shen

Heidi Shen is currently a junior attending Torrey Pines High School who has the clever know-how for excelling in AP courses such as AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Calculus. In addition to producing outstanding results in her academics, Heidi is an editor of JOURNYS, an international youth science magazine. When working at JOURNYS, she evaluates the relevance, accuracy, and significance of science articles marketed to kids. Likewise, she regularly volunteers with children at the Arts and Crafts program at the Carmel Valley Public Library. Additionally, Heidi was also a member of the Rosetta Institute of Biomedical Research team with Dr. Ryan Holzer, and has completed multiple missions to Mexico under the goal of expanding the perspective of children on life and the opportunities that come with education. When asked what she looks forward to most, Heidi explains, “I have a passion for teaching the youth and am excited to be the one to spur a child’s interest in STEM”. It’s this positive approach that makes her an excellent Student Leader, and someone who can be looked up to.



Shannon Robinson

Shannon Robinson is currently a junior at Canyon Crest Academy who wants to inspire others to have a dying thirst for science as much as she does. She is another active member of the high school's FIRST robotics team, where she is responsible for designing mechanisms and drivetrains using CAD software, manufacturing parts using industrial machines, and assembling large scale robots for worldwide competitions. Previously, she coached a local middle school Science Olympiad team and was a counselor for a robotics summer camp; in both positions she taught children basic physics and how to approach tasks using interactive design. Additionally, Shannon has mentored local LEGO robotics teams and volunteered with SPARK ignite club by helping host science experiments at elementary schools. To top it all off, Shannon has experience as a Teacher’s Assistant at Mission Estancia elementary as well. This extensive background working with children has provided her with a rich understanding of children’s needs in the classroom environment.



Adithya Rao

Adithya is a high school junior at Canyon Crest Academy where he has discovered a knack for anything and everything about computers, whether it’s computer programming, spending his free time creating apps and programs, or other independent projects. He placed 2nd in the Greater San Diego Science Fair for programing a SmartGlove using Arduino micro-controller and flex sensors, with the ability to analyze the resistance associated with each letter of the American Sign Language (ASL). This was then uploaded into a computer that typed each letter as they were signed and then spoke each word for the person signing. That’s incredible! Adithya aspires to become an engineer in the field of Computer Science, further stating, “I believe there are some fascinating things happening in the world of technology and computers with the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.” Adithya has used his expertise to volunteer at CASA DE AMISTAD where he taught children more about computers and coding, while also helping refurbish computers. To top it all off, he earned high scores of 5 (out of 5) in AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and AP Calculus. We think it would be safe to say that Adithya’s remarkable achievements with technology, academics, and student learning, make him a natural team member of San Diego LabRats, and we can’t wait to watch him grow with the next generation of computer engineers.



Allison Jung

Allison Jung is currently a junior at Torrey Pines High School. She has worked with students in a classroom setting as a Science Olympiad event coach and a teacher’s assistant at San Diego Chinese Academy. In 2017, she excelled in Science Olympiad where she was promoted to Event Coordinator, making her responsible for recruiting more coaches and planning further events. Her interest in science has grown through her involvement with her school’s science magazine, Journal of Youths in Science, as a member of the leadership board. Allison participated in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) at UC San Diego where she was the recipient of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center Award for the summer of 2018. Having gained all of these valuable experiences, she aspires one day to pursue a career in STEM. Furthermore, we are excited to empower her to help other students learn more about the possibilities of a future in science.