Outreach activities at University of Michigan
Science communication fellowship at the Natural History Museum
One of my favorite public activities so far at U of M has been participating in the science communication fellows program. The museum provides training in how to engage with the public and fellows design and showcase a demonstration related to their research. My prototype demonstrated some basic principles of diffraction by shining a laser through a tiny single pinhole and double pinhole (made with a sewing needle and aluminum foil) to show the airy pattern and fringes formed from the double holes. This helped me talk about understanding and modeling telescope PSFs and fringe patterns formed from interferometers.
I talk a little bit about my experience in this blog post: https://alexandrazgreenbaum.com/2018/04/24/um-science-communication-fellows-program/
Returning volunteer to FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and the Sciences) demo day
FEMMES is a pretty cool organization that you can read mode about here. Once a semester they organize an all-day “capstone” event on U of M campus for girls in 4-6th grade to come see various science and engineering demos from volunteers at U of M. They recruit volunteers from STEM departments across campus to come up with a handful of demos and show them off. I’ve had the pleasure of participating once each with the Physics and Astronomy departments.
Outreach activities at Johns Hopkins University
As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins I was heavily involved in outreach. For more information about JHU graduate student outreach you can visit their website here. Here are some of the projects I helped start at JHU:
High school physics demos
While school is in session a group of ~3 grad students go to a local high school twice monthly equipped with various physics demos related to a particular topic. We often coordinated with the physics teacher to present topics related to what the students were learning. Of course the students really like the flashy demos (I think they really enjoyed when I shocked myself with a Wimshurst machine), but they also really enjoyed the more interactive activities and experiments. After getting this feedback we learned to incorporate more group activities into our lesson plan.
It started when we were contacted by a Baltimore middle school that had a less traditional approach to learning — students were encouraged to do their own research on topics of interest, often surpassing their teachers expertise on the subject! They asked us to come in during their space section and introduce a few topics that would spur the curiosity of the students. The kids were so great that we knew we had to be back, somehow. Fast forward to an opportunity to cheaply build a portable planetarium and one grad student’s interest in becoming World Wide Telescope users and ambassadors, we applied for a grant in the city to build two planetaria, one to keep, one to give to the school. We were awarded the grant and you can hear me awkwardly talking about what we did with it here.
Altogether it was a fantastic experience to work with the school again; we designed a and recorded a show for them, and set up a few other demos for a day of astronomy. But that was not the end of this project, because we had build ourselves our own portable planetarium that is still used for astronomy open house events, high school visits, and even recruiting new grad students. I even got to help record a show about bodies in our solar system. This is one of the things I was proudest to be a part of at JHU, not only because it was so popular with our audiences, but because it was so popular with our volunteers! We recruited so many new outreach volunteers, making the organization all the more special.
A silly music video
We had some silly fun too. In 2015 we entered the “Ode to Hubble” competition expressing our love for a beloved space telescope. We sang along (badly) to lyrics inspired by Aha’s “Take on Me” and gathered the JHU and STScI community appreciation for HST. You can see our video here and some description of the featured Hubble images in an old blog post I made here.