Physics on tour | symmetry magazine


It all started with Peter Gabriel.

CERN event organizer Connie Porter knew the former frontman of Genesis had an interest in science and technology and invited him to tour the European Accelerator Laboratory as a special guest.

Gabriel was away, but his main collaborator, Mike Large, a producer, studio technician, designer, and astrophysicist by training, asked if he could replace Gabriel on tour. Potter agreed, and Large later suggested that they continue the conversation, inviting scientists from CERN to Gabriel’s annual festival, the World of Music, Art and Dance, or WOMAD.

Porter said she was skeptical: “Why would people at the festival come to the science tent?”

Encouraged by Large and two of Potter’s colleagues, Chris Thomas of Iowa State University (deceased in October 2022) and Roger Jones, chair of physics at Lancaster University in the UK, Potter decided to donate

That’s how she, Thomas, Jones and a group of volunteer physicists from CERN and the UK’s IOP Institute of Physics ended up creating a “physics pavilion” at the 2016 WOMAD festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, UK. “.

As Large predicted, the pavilion was a hit: Over three days, some 3,500 visitors took the time to learn about physics during the festival’s dozens of musical performances, poetry readings, cooking lessons and yoga sessions. .

Potter, Thomas and Jones eventually came up with a name for their holiday outreach group: The Big Bang Collective.

“It’s just a name we’ve given ourselves, those of us who really want to reach new audiences through the process of building these pavilions at the music and culture festival,” Porter said. It is an informal group of like-minded people who “bring science to the people, where the people are”.

Since the inaugural WOMAD in 2016, Big Bang Collective has brought their pavilions to four different festivals in four European countries every year, attracting tens of thousands of people. They hope this is just the beginning of a global STEM outreach revolution.

The Physics Hall—sometimes called the Science Hall—consists of tents, tables, and stands that offer science-related activities and programs. Porter and her collaborators curate the pavilion’s content based on the makeup of the festival’s audience. WOMAD, for example, is a more family-friendly crowd, while Denmark’s annual Roskilde festival tends to attract young people looking to party.

Some of the pavilion’s experts discuss recent or timely scientific results. This year, for example, the ethics and rise of artificial intelligence will be featured in the WOMAD and Roskilde pavilions.Previous festivals have hosted everything from watching rocket launches with NASA and Apollo astronaut Walter Cunningham to meeting with doctor who Writer and producer Steven Moffat.

The tent also offers seminars, demonstrations and hands-on activities. These give attendees the opportunity to interact with physics tangibly and have the opportunity to work one-on-one with real scientists. Crowd-pleasers included building a tabletop particle-detection cloud chamber and playing an electronic instrument called a theremin and buzzing high-voltage-generating Tesla coils at the intersection of physics and music.

At the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the science hall features a “lounge” with inflatable furniture, where festival goers are welcome to take a break. There, they can listen to casual talk, such as the physics of alcohol or how ultraviolet light works. They can also attend workshops where they can build their own solar chargers – which will come in handy during the multi-day event.

“They did a really good job of attracting really engaging presentations and presentations,” said Larry Lee, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Tennessee who participated in both pavilions. Along the way, I met some really cool people doing really interesting things, especially at the intersection of art and science.”

It wasn’t just scientists in the pavilion; Potter also invited artists who visited CERN to stop by and talk about their interests in music and science as part of a special guest program. Last year they welcomed Wayne Coyne from Flaming Lips at the WOMAD World of Physics.

Lee said the energy of the crowd at the festival was amazing: attendees also brought their enthusiasm for musical performances to the tent in the physics pavilion. “People are ready to ask relevant questions throughout the day,” he said. “I’ve participated in other forms of outreach, but I’ve never seen as many people engage as they do in these settings.”

Lee has volunteered at the Physics Pavilions, but he also appears in the festival lineup. After Lee launched a physics-inspired musical show called ColliderScope, he got in touch with Potter. That’s why Lee ended up performing on stage at the Pohoda Festival in Slovakia in 2019 and Roskilde in 2022. His musical and the Physics Pavilions are symbiotic and “share the crowd,” he said.

Charlotte Potter-Landua, senior creative at London’s Sky TV and Potter’s daughter, has participated in four WOMAD festivals and last year’s Roskilde Festival with Physics Pavilion. Potter-Landua is a filmmaker by training, and he creates highlights to promote the pavilion.

for her Film, she tried to interview festival-goers of all ages, genders, and backgrounds so viewers could see that anyone can be interested in physics. Potter-Landua said visitors’ excitement and enthusiasm for the pavilion showed that “there’s no right or wrong place in science.”

She recalls that at their first WOMAD in 2016, people would come up to the pavilion and say things like, “I have to be here in person to really believe this is here. I saw it on the show, but I thought ‘This can’t be true.’”

Potter-Landua said she hopes the pavilions will inspire those who may not have loved science in school but can now encounter it and interact with it in new ways. “I want them to feel inspired, like they’ve learned something different — even the smallest, tiniest thing,” she said.

The team collects surveys of attendees at each festival and spends hours reading thousands of responses, Potter said. She says learning about their positive impact is one of her favorite parts.

“We really want to spark people’s curiosity and show them that science — physics — isn’t just for what people say is ‘really, really smart people,'” Porter said. “If you explain it well, it’s engaging and you understand it. It’s attractive to everyone.”

Potter-Landua agrees. “I think no matter what level of scientific knowledge you have, you can go [the Physics Pavilion],” she says.

This year, the Big Bang Collective will bring the physical pavilion to Roskilde from June 24th to July 1st and July 27th to 30th.

Members of the Big Bang Collective say they want to bring Physics Pavilions to festivals in as many countries as possible. Porter said the biggest factor in her success has been the local institutions she works with, and she encourages physicists around the world to reach out and collaborate. They are already collaborating with physicists in the US and Spain.

“Honestly, I think you have to go see it,” Lee said. “Really seeing how much this project has impacted people and how much they’ve been involved … it’s been really special to see that first-hand.”


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