Outreach: bringing science to the next generation

Outreach is fun, at least for me. You are going to an event, present what you do in easy terms and discuss with people about science, what you are working on or why what you do matters at all. These events are usually quite relaxed, filled with young people and a good break out of your usual day job. That is why I was happy to volunteer when we got as a group the question whether we would like to present our field at “Highlights der Physik” (Highlights of physics), a science fair held every year on a market place in a minor town somewhere in Germany.

All started with the question whether we want to do it and what we would like to show. As a meteorologist, I had done several of these events, and the usual stuff to show are measurement instruments and some experiments with water, because that works for 10-12 year old and this is usually the general target group to be able to catch everyone. This time the target group was given by the organizers with 13-15 years old, so the instruments would do it (especially as we are not a working group of meteorologists). Back in the days when we did these shows I always wanted to show something like statistics and ensembles at these events, because that is may daily job, but quite hard to boil down for little kids. This time the chance opened up with some reasonable budget to get it done.

As a group we decided to show the difference between weather forecasting and climate prediction, and of course our group topic, seasonal and decadal prediction. After several brain storming events we decided to develop a Galton board and try our luck how far we can go with it. With a lot of practical help of the one who finally build it, we designed it in a flexible way, so that we can show many different topics with it. Little barriers allow us to deviate the little wooden balls at any place on the board in the direction we want them and having a lot of little balls allow us to make impressive statistical experiments. So all in all, this little toy got us really exciting for the event and of course it helped us to get over the not so funny parts of organising our appearance there (posters, questionnaires, travel etc.).

When the time came, I had a beautiful week in Münster, a university town in the western part of Germany. Within a tent, surrounded by many other physics groups we showed our experiment and talked a lot about the wide field of climatology and weather. We are used to get questions about politics and energy as well, as many connect nowadays with climate the changing environment we are living in. And of course there is the main motivation for founders to send us to such events: talking with pupils, students and teachers about the great career opportunities, when you choose a geoscientific field for study. It also gave us this time again the opportunity to show that geosciences are part of the physics community, which also lead to interesting discussions with other physicists.

Being back I got contact with our PR department and they wrote a lovely piece for their web presence (unfortunately just in german). So all in all it was a lot of time, half a year of preparation and a lot of communicating science. And yes, I am happy that it was with such simple means possible to explain a lot of people a statistical topic in a physical environment.

 

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