Happy 5th of July, everyone! For my inaugural post here on Quantum Diaries I thought it would be fun and somewhat fitting to write about one of my favorite parts of being a scientist: public outreach. The terms “public outreach,” “science outreach,” or just “outreach” are all used interchangeably by researchers and our funders, e.g., The National Science Foundation and The U.S. Department of Energy, to mean when scientists hold public lectures or demonstrations in order to tell people all about their present work or field of science. One example of outreach familiar to everyone reading this blog is Quantum Diaries itself. The innovations made in social media (think Twitter) have made it possible for physicists around the world to share with everyone, including other scientists, the exciting, ground-breaking research we do. On top of that, it can all happen with just a few key strokes and track pad taps.
To list all the reasons why outreach is beneficial and useful would make this post much, much longer than I intend. Though, there is one reason for reaching out to the public I feel worth mentioning: it’s a unique way of saying “thank you.” Equipment like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, Fermilab’s Tevatron, and NASA’s Hubble Telescope are all examples of publicly financed science experiments, each with the goal of helping understand how the Universe came to be. Economically speaking, such projects can only be constructed with federal assistance. However, these so-called “high risk, high reward” projects have given us, as unintended consequences, new methods of cancer treatment and even the World Wide Web. The Large Hadron Collider alone has pushed computing technology to an impressive new standard. Without the public’s help many of our greatest scientific achievements may not have ever been actualized; this is why scientists are always hesitant and worried when budget discussions pertaining to science funding become politicized.
A neat fact of life is that there are so many different ways of saying “thank you” that are entirely institution- and regionally dependent. For instance the physics lab Fermilab, which is located in a suburb of Chicago and actually doubles as a nature preserve, has a hugely successful program called Saturday Morning Physics where local high school students, regardless of scientific background, can learn all about modern physics. The University of Chicago and The University of Wisconsin, as well as many other universities, hold annual shows featuring hours of physics demonstrations that can be literally explosive. MIT uniquely has its Splash Program where advanced undergraduates are invited to tell participating high school students all about their favorite topics, like the Science of Cooking, and often includes demonstrations (or tasty samples!). A grand example is CERN’s gigantic wooden dome named The Globe. This 30-meter tall, perpetually pine-smelling, building provides the surrounding French and Swiss communities (CERN is on the French-Swiss boarder just outside of Geneva, Switzerland) continuously updated exhibits on the history of the Universe and on the works of famous physicists like Einstein. The Globe also acts a venue for public lectures where everyone is invited to hear from scientists from various fields, not just physics. Just pull up a web browser and search your favorite university along with the words “science outreach,” or even just “biology outreach.” I promise you will immediately find tons of fantastic information.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my first post. Future ones will mostly be about really neat particle physics updates but there will definitely be the occasional awesome-application-of-science-but-not-necessarily-physics post. Here is a sneak peak of an update-in-progress that I hope will be a big hit. Until then though you can find me on my personal outreach Twitter account @bravelittlemuon. Send me a message or post a comment below; I would love to hear about your outreach experiences!