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Earlier this year, APS funded seven outreach groups through its Outreach Mini-Grants program. The teams have been hard at work, and, in the coming months, most projects should have their public debut. “It’s a program where APS gives small grants up to ten thousand dollars to APS members interested in starting their own outreach programs,” said Becky Thompson, the head of outreach at APS. “We want to make sure that APS members are involved in public outreach. It’s important for scientists to engage the public.”
Of the seven, six new groups received funding for projects ranging from nuclear science video games to gravitational wave classroom activities and a condensed matter film. One group originally selected last year to develop a cosmic ray smartphone app received an extension. “We want to make sure we are reaching a variety of audiences,” Thompson said. “We’re looking for things that have high impact, can reach a lot of people, or can reach fewer people on a very deep level.”
The program first started in 2010 in conjunction with LaserFest, the celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the laser. That year 38 grants were awarded with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), SPIE, and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation. Since then 25 additional grants have been awarded by APS.
This year the NSF awarded APS a new grant to help continue and broaden the program. “We got a grant for $200,000 over three years from NSF to expand the program,” Thompson said. “We’re very excited that NSF is so supportive of an outreach proposal such as this.”
Nicolas Yunes and his team from Montana State University are working with the head of his school’s film program to put together a planetarium show about gravitational waves. “We wanted to make it more plot-driven but still be informative…. Gravitational waves will allow us to hear the universe for the very first time,” Yunes said. “We have what all the waves look like and can convert them on a computer so we can listen to them.” Once finished, the team plans to distribute their show to other planetariums for free in order to reach as broad an audience as possible.
Alexander Boxer wants to build a miniature golf course to teach the fundamentals of force and motion to kids and adults. He plans on building on the traditional mini-golf course by incorporating accelerometers, video capture and screen readouts to demonstrate in real time the forces players exert on the golf ball. “A key part of this project is that it’s kind of high tech. Every time you hit the ball, things are going to be measured,” Boxer said. “It’s a fun way to introduce people to new concepts and keep their attention.... With the APS grant, we’re trying to build one demonstration hole that we think can be mobile,” Boxer said.
Lesley Greene, an associate producing director at the Kitchen Theater Company in Ithaca, New York, is producing “Physics Fair,” the theater’s original show. It’s a musical about a middle school girl who is organizing her school’s science fair.
“Songs are just such a great way to remember things that otherwise don’t stick with you,” Greene said. “There are certainly high-school-aged kids who know elements because of the Tom Lehrer song.”
In addition to featuring original songs about science, Greene linked up with scientists from the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education. Together they are using their outreach experience to create eye-catching physics demos for the science fair projects in the musical. “Basically they find everyday objects and do amazing things,” Greene said.
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