‘Real life Barbenheimer’ in Tri-Cities asking ‘@Mattel Let’s see a nuclear engineer Barbie’

The woman who’s been called the “real life Barbenheimer” is visiting Richland this week.

Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke, a nuclear engineering student, tweeted that being told she’s Barbenheimer personified is one of the favorite compliments she’s received this year as the reigning Miss America.

In an interview for CNN she said that the movie “Oppenheimer” showed the birthplace of her industry.

And the movie “Barbie” is based on a doll with the message that children can grow up to be anything they want, just as she is showing that she can be Miss America and a nuclear engineer, Stanke said.

“Just like ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ the two combined is a really wonderful opportunity to show how women can break stereotypes and how they can really do anything they set their minds to,” she said in a recent BBC radio interview.

She still sees barriers for women in STEM, she said.

People make assumptions when she walks in wearing a crown and a sash that says Miss America, “but it is so much fun to say, ’Here’s what I stand for, here’s what I’ve accomplished, here’s what I can contribute to this conversation’,” she said.

“@Mattel Let’s see a nuclear engineer Barbie plz,” she tweeted recently.

“I would potentially cry a little bit,” she said.

This is Stanke’s second visit to the Tri-Cities.

She was in her element in May when she toured the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington and looked up at the towering face of historic B Reactor.

Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke sits at the control panel of historic B Reactor at Hanford as she is briefed by Patrick Jaynes, operations manager at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, in May.
Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke sits at the control panel of historic B Reactor at Hanford as she is briefed by Patrick Jaynes, operations manager at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, in May.

The reactor is “the beginning of nuclear science, pretty much at its core,” she said during a Hanford site Women in Engineering talk during that visit.

Hanford’s B Reactor produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, as shown in “Oppenheimer.”

Weeks later Hanford plutonium powered the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

“It is incredible to see how science has progressed and how energy in general has taken that reactor (B Reactor) and adapted it to be something to produce energy and electricity for Americans across the country,” she said in May.

As she pointed out during her visit to the Tri-Cities and in recent Barbenheimer interviews for Great Britain and United States news outlets, nuclear medicine saved her father’s life twice as he was treated for cancer.

Her visit this week to the Tri-Cities is focused on nuclear energy, a central tenet of her Miss America mission.

On Wednesday, she enjoyed a treat from Richland’s Spudnut Shop and climbed Candy Mountain.

On Thursday she’ll tour the Morrison Energy Center in Richland, the hub for Energy Northwest’s partnership with X-energy.

Energy Northwest has signed an agreement with the goal of having an X-energy advanced small nuclear reactor producing power in Eastern Washington by the end of 2030.

It could potentially deploy as many as 12 Xe-100 reactors, together capable of generating up to 960 megawatts of electricity. Energy Northwest already operates the Pacific Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, which can generate up to 1,207 megawatts.

Her visit to the Tri-Cities also includes a keynote address at Washington Policy Center’s Young Professionals Summer Social in Pasco to discuss her clean energy platform and play the violin.

One of her most recent Tweets featured her at Vogtle Unit 3, in Georgia, the United States’ first new nuclear power reactor in almost seven years. Instead of a crown and sash, she wore a hard hat and safety vest.

As the new reactor went live Monday she tweeted, “Here’s to powering 500,000 homes with zero-carbon and reliable energy!”

“We live in the atomic future where Miss America does photo shoots at new nuclear plants,” nuclear energy advocate michael @cornoisseur retweeted.