Forum on Engaging the Public

Dan Dahlberg and Philip W. Hammer

At its November 2010 meeting, the APS Council approved the formation of a new forum, the Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public (FOEP). The FOEP was motivated by the need to increase the public’s awareness of physics while also providing a “home” within APS for the large number of physicists currently involved in a diverse array of outreach and public engagement activities. The idea emerged from the APS Committee on Informing the Public (CIP), which had a growing sense that there is strong APS member interest in forming a new APS unit focused specifically on outreach and public engagement. The CIP felt strongly that addressing this need is important to the health of the physics community.

Physicists are increasingly involved in creative public engagement activities such as blogging, multimedia, video, pop culture, popularizations, press relations, politics, “amateur” and distributed science, science cafes, and public shows and lectures. Many do so as part of broader impact and outreach requirements of grant applications. Others do so as a core element of their professional activities. The creation of the FOEP will foster the development and dissemination of such programs, ideas, best practices, and lessons learned.  Our goal is that the FOEP will encourage more APS members to engage the public as partners in the enterprise of physics. Some examples of expansion include improving our contact with members of Congress, public lectures such as the one at the March meeting last year and this year by Jim Kakalios (the author of The Physics of Superheroes discussing the materials aspects of superheroes), and the hugely successful Laser Haunted House at the 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

We anticipate public engagement will be at the core of FOEP activities. This entails putting more science in the eyes of the public so they can appreciate/understand/engage with what science does and what it does for them. A big goal of the new forum could be how to connect to the average person. To accomplish this we also recognize we need to learn how to gain support from media people in TV, radio, and the internet. We also need to nurture and grow a community of physicists with a real interest in outreach to pass on programs that work, along with disseminating best practices, and promoting new ideas.

FOEP would provide an intellectual venue for like-minded APS members to share their work on engaging the public about physics. The outcomes would be an increase in the number of physicists involved in public engagement, improvements in the effectiveness of such activities, and a growth in creative new ideas for building appreciation of and support for physics.

Why “engage”? Engagement implies interacting with the public in ways that stimulate thought, activity, follow up, and lasting positive impressions. In other words, FOEP hopes to engage the public as active supporters and aficionados of, and participants in, physics. We see this as a battle for the hearts and minds (and hands) of the public as a way to maintain the relevance of, and their passion for, physics. Engagement is something different than education or a focus on particular issues; engagement is active involvement that takes advantage of the full spectrum of venues where the public can be found. Engagement is part outreach, part informing, and part communicating; but it is also more than these things combined. Engagement is an aspiration to establish a two-way connection between APS members and the general public.

To join FOEP at no cost prior to renewing your APS membership, send an email to with your request to add FOEP to your membership. Please note that if you currently belong to two or more forums, FOEP will be added at no charge for the remainder of your membership term. On your next membership renewal notice, you will see a Forum subtotal that will include $8 for every Forum membership over two.

For more information on FOEP, go to: or contact either of the authors.

Disclaimer—The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.