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By Lissie Connors
This past April, seven institutions were awarded APS Outreach Mini Grants of up to $10,000, which will fund public outreach programs in communities around the world. This year’s awardees come from institutions large and small and include collaborations both domestic and international.
Many physics outreach programs focus on public lectures and demos, but applicants for the APS Outreach Mini Grants are encouraged to think outside the box and try something new. While traditional programs are funded through the Mini Grants, creative or experimental ideas are especially encouraged. For those looking to design new outreach activities, these awards can provide vital start-up funding to create long-term, sustainable programs. When selecting awardees, APS looks for projects that make physics accessible to historically underrepresented groups. Projects funded this year will include programs for students from kindergarten to high school, indigenous communities, and incarcerated populations.
The Cameroon Physical Society and Cameroon Academy of Sciences will be working together to create an informational campaign showing the impact of physics in Cameroonian society. They will design free booklets that showcase the history of physics, its importance in modern technologies, and how it relates to other fields of science. This will supplement a lecture tour, taking Cameroonian physicists to high schools across the country, with talks aimed at students, journalists, and the broader public. They will also share their lectures on radio programs and social media.
At the Texas Southmost College, faculty members will be building a science-based outreach network called “Fostering the Ultimate Science-based Integrated Outreach Network” (FUSION), which will help train college students with project-based courses in both physics and teacher education. Students will also be working to expand physics literacy in southern Texas by organizing community STEM events and social media campaigns.
In the neighborhood around Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, faculty and students will be expanding an existing outreach program to include lessons on astronomy and optics. Elementary school students in the area will learn how light interacts with matter and have the chance to see how lenses, microscopes, cameras, lasers, and telescopes work; ultimately they will learn how these technologies help us look at the stars. At the end of the program, the students and their parents will gather for a springtime astronomy night, just in time to see Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter together in the night sky.
The University of Michigan is launching “Physics and Astronomy for Community Engagement” (PACE), a multi-phase outreach program to reach residents of Flint, Michigan. They plan to work with high school students on lab activities covering topics from renewable energy to radio astronomy. The students will then have a chance to put these lessons into practice at a physics competition. Lastly, the program will conclude with a community-wide event to discuss popular physics topics with the people of Flint.
In Colorado, the University of Denver will be visiting native communities across the Denver metropolitan area to lead “Indigilogix Pods”—physics labs integrated with indigenous culture. Indigenous science education research indicates that, “everyday community practices and their connections with Native ways of knowing must be the foundation of a community-based science curriculum.” With that in mind, these outreach programs are designed to provide native communities in the Denver area with an enriching opportunity to learn science outside of a traditional classroom setting while celebrating their history.
Physicists at Caltech will also be working to reach indigenous communities in Montana and California, building on an already established outreach program to bring the excitement of science to small, rural communities. The project also involves working with language specialists to translate LIGO’s gravitational wave discoveries into Navajo to celebrate indigenous language and culture.
Lastly, faculty and students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign received a mini-grant to expand an outreach program called Opening the Cosmos to a Closed World, where they will lead astronomy workshops at a local correctional facility. Educational programs in prisons have been found to benefit the quality of life, build valuable skills that increase employment prospects, and reduce the chances of recidivism. Participants in the program will study the principles behind astronomical phenomena, interpret real astronomy datasets, and build their own code in Python.
To see how these projects progress, attend the 2020 APS March Meeting in Denver, where awardees will be speaking about their outreach activities in a special session. APS has awarded grants for outreach programs since 2005, and this year marks the ninth year of the APS Mini Grant program. The next application cycle opens in October. To learn more, please visit the outreach grants web page.
The author is the Science Communications Intern at APS.
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