Backstage at the Big Top

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Backstage at the Big Top


Joe York, former Industrial Outreach Manager, American Institute of Physics

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) and partners APS, OSA, ASA, AAPT, ACA, and SPS brought a physics circus to the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) in Washington, DC, where more than 350,000 attendees swarmed the 1,000+ exhibitors, including the Big Top Physics pavilion. Highlights of this yearís collaboration were a bed of nails, a light painting booth, singing pipes, a photo wall, and several smoke cannons. 

SPS volunteers from Pennsylvania State University pose for a photo before Six Flags America Physics Day. Photos by Matt Payne.

We also had a great time at the 2016 Six Flags America Physics Day, hosted on April 22 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The SPS volunteers, with a big thank you to the Pennsylvania State University volunteers for driving so far to help, along with staff from AAPT, APS, and the SPS National Office, provided regional students the chance to ride a rollercoaster while wearing accelerometers in order to conduct experiments and learn the fundamentals of what makes a rollercoaster “go.” There were screams of excitement about science at this year’s Six Flags America Physics Day.

Maryland high school students create a device to keep a raw egg intact during the Egg Drop Competition at Six Flags Physics Day. Photos by Matt Payne.

Public outreach conducted as a collaborative effort is synergistic in nature—that is, the combined effect of the partners is greater than the sum of the individual impacts each component could make on its own. Those of us at AIP enjoy working with our member societies and other organizations on efforts like these because we can make more noise, create bigger bangs, and enjoy greater engagement with people through such collaborations than we could on our own—all while having fun, too.

Public outreach is also an excellent way to build professional skills, such as public speaking, problem solving, logistics, and time management, while at the same time performing a service and having fun. Inspiring others and showing them why you love being a physicist is contagious. As an added bonus, you will find yourself with a greater confidence in the subject matter.  //

Outreach Resources

Check out some of the resources on the SPS National website to help your chapter or group get involved in outreach:

To kick-start your efforts, Science Outreach Catalyst Kits (SOCKs) are available to SPS chapters.

The 2016 SPS Summer Interns were a part of several outreach events this summer, including: 

  • Astronomy Night on the National Mall, facilitated by Hofstra 
  • University
  • Meet a Nobel Laureate with the Koshland Science Museum
  • Women’s Policy Inc. STEM Fair
  • NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Teachers

We even had one of our interns, Isabel Binamira, work solely on public outreach! Check out her outreach blog posts to see what she has to say about her experience.

Or read her story on page 44 of this magazine.

If you are interested in developing an outreach effort, a demo, or just have questions, we are here to help you! Ask us how to get more involved or to post your outreach adventure. 

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