APS News

APS Awards Outreach Grants to Seven Creative Teams

APS has awarded grants to seven teams to engage in outreach programs across the country. The grants are part of efforts by APS to encourage its members to bring the fun and excitement of physics to the general public.

Each grant proposal could be for up to $10,000 and the contact person had to be an APS member. Other than that, the requirements for applying were left open to encourage creativity and originality.

 “We wanted to give grants to a wide range of projects, so each project is different and going to reach a different audience,” said Rebecca Thompson, Head of Public Outreach at APS. “We were looking for things that were new and innovative.”

APS first offered outreach grants for the World Year of Physics in 2005. In 2010 it revived the program for LaserFest, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first working laser. Since then grants are being awarded annually  as part of a three-year pilot program. This year the Society received more than 80 applications, which were evaluated by members of the APS Committee on Informing the Public.

Nancy Sandler, a professor at Ohio University, is working with the school’s film students to create short claymation movies for children. She said that the films will  focus on bringing the physics of nanotechnology to kids in kindergarten through third grade.

“We want to make a couple of short movies, five minutes or ten minutes at most, to capture the kids’ imagination,” Sandler said. “Claymation is very cool, it’s different and it’s a good way to tell stories.”

She said also that she wanted to involve the school’s film students instead of just physics students because of their skill at communicating with a broad audience.

“We targeted them because we want to reach people like them. We want them to tell the story of what we do and why we do it in their own words,” Sandler said. “We want to educate them, so they can educate the rest.”

Dan and Jan Jablonski are putting together performances that teach kids about space and the solar system.

“What we’re planning to do is take the children’s book, ‘Halley Came to Jackson,’ by [singer-songwriter] Mary Chapin Carpenter… and turn it into a penny theater for young children,” said Jan Jablonksi, a preschool teacher and co-president of the Noyes Children’s Library Foundation.  

A penny theater is similar to a puppet show, but uses paper cutouts instead of puppets for the characters. The book, based on Carpenter’s popular song, tells the story of a young child in her father’s arms when Halley’s Comet was in the sky above Jackson, Mississippi in 1910, and how the memory stays with her for the rest of her life.

Ariel Simons, a high school teacher in Los Angeles, is also looking to the skies for his project, but is planning to elicit some help. His proposal will turn the cameras of thousands of cell phones across the country into a massive distributed cosmic ray detector.

“The idea is that we’re using the camera chips in cell phones as the detector plate for cosmic rays coming in from air showers,” Simons said. “Each phone acts as a single pixel in a big array.”

He and Justin Vandenbroucke from Stanford are programming an app for Android and iPhones that will record the time and GPS coordinates of any cosmic ray signature that the phone’s camera picks up. Any ray that hits the light-sensitive chip will show up as a bright spot in the frame.

“The big thing is we’re just trying to get data in general that we could use to study cosmic rays,” Simons said. “It is outreach because it makes it really approachable. It’s like ‘here’s an experiment and you can help us out with part of it’… It helps show the public what people are actually doing in science.”

Other projects that will receive funding include a website for scientists to share their research, greeting cards that describe the physics of everyday objects, a series of physics-themed short films and a physics camp for high-school girls.


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