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This summer has been a very busy outreach season for us in UK. Stuart and I, with assistance from many others, have exhibited at 3 different festivals and spoken to around 1000 people. We've fine tuned setting up our stand to be a well oiled machine! The theme has an over-arching theme of multi-wavelength views of the Universe. So, armed with a couple of flat screen monitors, a thermal imaging camera, a mobile version of Chromoscope and arm-loads of LCO astronomy stickers, we set out.
It started off in June with the Big Bang Fair Cymru, in Swansea where Stuart and I, accompanied by Haley Gomez were among a select few professional scientists, and provided the only astronomy exhibit. The aim of the regional Big Bang fairs is for high schools to spend a proportion of the year doing a science project (mentored by industry or universities) and then they exhibit their results, and prizes are awarded. A key part of the day was for each group to explore other areas of science by talking to the other competitors and the other exhibitors. We were very impressed by the committment these young people had made to their projects, and how far they had managed to take them. One note worthy group had designed a system for counting car radiator fins by taking a picture and doing some quite complex computational analysis on this image, in near real-time.
Every student we talked to was excited about science and asked searching questions about astronomy. These inspired kids are who the future of science is being entrusted to, and we were all impressed at how much they wanted it.
We also met a science communication hero of ours, who doubtless inspired the 3 of us in the UK TV programme "How 2" - Gareth Jones (who used to be called Gaz Topp). My inner fan-boy couldn't resist a picture.
In July, Haley and I spent a weekend at the Royal Society Summer exhibition in London talking to the general public about the Herschel Space Observatory. Again we were talking about the multi-wavelength Universe and how things look different when you take images with infra-red light instead of visible light. It is a fun exhibit to do because it attracts such a wide variety of London's tourists. In the run up to the Olympics the audience was large and international, which was rather refreshing.
The weekend 14-15 July was the Cardiff Science Festival reboot. I was on the organizing committee but because of other commitments I didn't get along to many meetings. We rolled out our multi-wavelength exhibit again and added some meteorites, borrowed from the Down 2 Earth project, and added a bit of solar observing (which in Wales' capital was a bit ambitious). Over the course of the weekend we saw a couple of hundred people which is a great beginning for a science festival run on a shoe-string, and hopefully will give us all the energy to do more ambitious things next year. On the Sunday evening I volunteered to do a 9 minute "Science show-off" where 10 professional scientists took 9 minutes to show off about a bit of science of our choice in a bar.
Although its been a busy summer already, the outreach is always rewarding and enjoyable. You get to meet so many interesting people too.
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