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Family Physics Night
SPS Chapters on Outreach
Family Physics Night
An annual tradition of community-building outreach
Sophia Sauceda, SPS Chapter Fundraising and Outreach Chair, Max Schaar, SPS Chapter Vice President, and Ezra Acero, SPS Member, with Toni Sauncy, SPS Chapter Advisor, Texas Lutheran University
Each November the Texas Lutheran University (TLU) SPS chapter hosts hundreds of campus visitors for an evening devoted to the wonders of physics.
Family Physics Night (FPN) began in 2012 with about 50 visitors. Now hundreds of people come for this community event featuring hands-on physics activities. Each year we have a new topic, and our students and faculty members spend weeks developing engaging activity stations that highlight the importance of understanding physics. The activities are designed to speak to people of all ages and enable them to see, learn, and be inspired by the magic that we know as physics.
Like most chapters, our outreach activity was curtailed during the pandemic, forcing a virtual FPN hosted in collaboration with the SPS National Office in 2020. In 2021, the 10th annual FPN drew nearly 200 visitors back to campus. Our theme was Exploring with Physics, inspired by the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Stations focused on how physicists and astronomers explore things from the small (build-your-own cardboard microscope) to the big (how the mysteries of the universe are being revealed using infrared radiation). In preparation, we constructed a full-scale model of the JWST primary mirror that served as a popular photo op and gave participants a tangible idea of the telescope’s size. You may have seen our model in the main ballroom at the 2022 Physics Congress!
While it’s typical for many open house science outreach events to attract elementary school–aged students, TLU FPN is popular with our local middle and high schools. We market FPN through a network of high school science teachers, many of whom bus students to the event from outlying rural areas after inspiring them with extra credit assignments. In addition, the TLU marketing staff help create flyers that are distributed throughout the community. More recently we’ve been using social media platforms (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) to remind FPN fans about the event.
Transforming an empty party barn into a bona fide interactive science museum requires organization and an all-hands-on-deck effort that takes hours. Setup typically begins in the early morning and ends just before the TLU Distinguished Public Lecture in Physics, which precedes a short demonstration show and the hands-on activities.
Visitor feedback about the experience is always positive, with the exception of some complaints about the “big crowds.” Attendees respond well to lessons from TLU SPS members, who range in experience from first-year students to seniors. While our SPS chapter considers this event a public service, our physics department has another motive for supporting the event—engaging undergraduate physics majors in work that gives them agency and a sense of accomplishment, even as they learn to make a sometimes-intimidating subject fun and engaging for all.