To engage members of the public in the fun of the science of light.
To demonstrate some of the physics of light and how this relates to our current research goals.
To reach people who would not normally go out of their way for a science event.
To run an activity that gives a direct conversation with researchers about their own research and is accessible on a level of the aesthetic beauty of a rainbow, whilst giving the opportunity to talk about the quantum description of atoms, the challenges in exo-plant hunting, and laser cutting.
Summary of activity:
We took a 3x6m gazebo into the central courtyard of the Southgate shopping centre in Bath for Saturday 26th September 9am-7pm. The main focus was an activity building a hand-held spectroscope using a specially made box and a piece of CD. The activity was manned by PhD students and academics, each usually working with 2 to 6 participants at one time. This gave the opportunity to talk about the properties of light and diffraction, at a level appropriate to the group (their age and science knowledge). The participants then used their spectroscopes to look at various household lights, laser lights and sunlight, and we discussed what they saw, and how this relates to some of our current research in optical fibres for making lasers, medical endoscopes and astronomical telescopes. There was also a short video of our fibre fabrication techniques, for those with a deeper interest, and banners with some images of our research with short accessible 150-word descriptions. The banners were displayed both inside and outside the tent and some people engaged them with even if they were reluctant to do the activity.
We assessed the number of participants by the number of spectroscopes that were made and taken away by the participants. A small number of people did not take their spectroscopes, but the overwhelming majority did, so this was a simple and effective measure of participation.
We assessed the previous science engagement of the participants, and their fun/engagement with the activity by a sticker chart with six squares. The completed chart is attached to this evaluation report.
What went well:
1. We reached nearly 300 participants, with overwhelmingly positive experiences of the event.
2. 30% participants identified themselves as not usually attending science events, festivals or science museums.
3. The postgraduate student volunteers enjoyed running the event and were motivated to do more.
What was learned:
1. The shopping centre location worked well to different audience from a science festival.
2. Having a science 'toy' to make and take home was very much appreciated by participants.
Top tips and advice for others
1. It should be fun, make sure that you enjoy it yourself.
2. Going to where people are in a shopping centre rather than getting the public to come to a science fair or event can reach a new audience.
3. The hardest part was organising a date for the event – finding who manages bookings and finding a free date. Even then there was nearly a problem with the space on the day.
4. Early morning Saturday shoppers are focussed on what they need to get and then get on with their day. More people are wandering and browsing after 10:30/11:00.
5. Participants were particularly excited to be able to make their own spectroscope and take it home. A large part of the design and testing of the event was spent in refining the design so that the spectrometers could be made quickly and cheaply enough, and also so that they always worked. I found that cutting tape was the limiting step in how long it takes to make, so the number of pieces of tape needed was reduced to only two in final.