The basic goals of presenting a public lecture series are many and can include:
- To bring physics (and science in general) concepts and demos to populations who normally would not have exposure to these
- To excite people about physics
- To encourage people to become more interested in physics
- To stimulate support for your department, university, you, and physics in general in the form of financial gifts, legislative support
- To create a media “buzz” around physics and you and your department specifically (see Public Relations)
- To recruit students to study physics
- To showcase physicists and other scientists to the public
Of course, you have your own goals for doing a public lecture series. Examples of scenarios that might prompt you doing a public lecture series include:
- there is major issue in the news, for example, evolution. You know that a lecture series that looks at evolution from many different angles (all scientifically of course) could be of interest to the public. You can use “evolution” as a starting point and expand on the concept to include the evolution of stars, the evolution of life, the evolution of computers, etc. (ie it doesn’t just have to be about dinosaurs) and your research and your colleagues’ research can serve as a platform to give lectures that relate to the topic of evolution. The goal would be to better inform the public about the subject of evolution in general, get the public thinking about what evolution means, and demonstrate how physics and physicists are involved in the research and discoveries.
- there is a major physics discovery/research result/event, for example, the start of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, or, as was the case in 2005, the World Year of Physics. You can capitalize on the publicity and momentum of these events by hosting your own series if lectures that help explain things to the public. After all, people may be hearing about these things in the news, but they don’t know what the heck they are. You can organize a lecture series that highlights the most exciting physics discoveries of the 20th century (even if we are now past the World Year of Physics, keep in mind that 2009 was the International Year of Astronomy (see www.astronomy2009.us for more information) and 2010 is LaserFest). As is the case of the LHC, you can use that as a starting lecture and then move on to other topics. The audience will appreciate learning about science in an easy-to-understand, accessible manner that relates to the news they hear about.