APS News

Council Establishes Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public

On November 20, APS Council voted to accept a petition to create a new Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public (FOEP), and adopted the proposed draft of its by-laws.

The APS Committee on Informing the Public (CIP) had spearheaded the drive to create the new forum. In order to bring a petition to Council, at least 200 APS member signatures are required; the petition drive quickly obtained more than 600. The organizers say that the forum is aimed at building a stronger community of people involved with raising the visibility of physics and science to the general public.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for physicists who are interested in outreach and engagement and the public to come together,” said Philip Hammer of the American Institute of Physics. He is a member of the CIP as well as of the forum’s organizing committee.

In the coming months, the organizers will concentrate on getting the word out to the APS membership as part of a campaign to recruit members of the forum. In addition the organizing committee will start formalizing the leadership of the new forum.

The forum will enable physicists interested in interacting with the general public to network and share the best approaches and techniques. The forum will publish a newsletter and maintain an email listserv to foster an active community, and will begin to organize sessions at APS meetings. Ultimately the organizers hope that this forum will help raise the quality of outreach efforts.

“The forum provides a venue for people to congregate, provide best practice manuals…and disseminate things that work so people don’t have to repeat the mistakes that other people have made,” said CIP committee chair Dan Dahlberg of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, “The need for physics to be more visible is important. The visibility has impact on funding and just the general need to educate the public on science.”

Other members of the forum’s organizing committee have also said that they hope the forum will focus on disseminating materials on traditional outreach efforts such as physics demonstrations, lectures, and working with schools. However they say it will also incorporate newer techniques such as working with new media such as blogs, twitter and social network sites as well as interacting with lawmakers, authors, museums, television and movie producers and even getting the public involved with citizen science.

The name “Outreach and Engaging the Public” was chosen by the organizing committee to reflect this two-way interaction with the public.

“Outreach is educating, entertaining, and increasing the interest of the public in physics and science that is not in the normal setting, that’s not in the classroom, that’s not what we normally do,” Dahlberg said.

“Engagement to me implies a two-way interaction,” Hammer said, “Not just enlightening the public, but to get non-physicists involved with physics.”

The organizers said also that they are looking forward to working along with other forums such as the Forum on Education and the Forum on Physics and Society.

“There should be cross-fertilization, this forum should not be independent of everybody else,” Dahlberg said. “It should be a synergistic relationship between these groups.”


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