Web Newsletter
Front Page Hanford Caltech MIT

LIGO Livingston Observatory News

An Educational Outreach Center at LLO?

An Educational Outreach Center at LLO?

- Contributed by Mark Coles

On May 17, more than 30 Louisiana educators gathered at the LIGO Livingston Observatory (LLO) with representatives of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and LIGO to discuss the possibility of establishing an educational outreach center in association with the Observatory. This was for many in the audience their first visit to LIGO, and afforded an excellent opportunity to "advertise" LIGO to the education community in the region, as well as to give representatives of the NSF a sense of the breadth of support that exists for an educational outreach center.

Professor Barry Barish, Director of the LIGO Laboratory, introduced the discussion and in general terms explained to the largely non-technical audience the scientific motivations for LIGO and the technology powering it. Besides communicating a feel for the exciting scientific potentialities of LIGO, he also described the important contributions it is making to university level education. For example, the LIGO SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships) program is an NSF sponsored program that brings undergraduate students from universities and colleges, both national and international, to each of the LIGO sites as well as the Caltech campus to participate in undergraduate research mentored by LIGO staff. This year, approximately twenty students will participate in this program, of which eight will be stationed in Livingston. These students, as well as those from previous years, have come from such regional universities as LSU, Southeastern Louisiana University, Southern University, and Xavier University of New Orleans, but also from Caltech, MIT, Yale, Syracuse University, and even from as far away as Paris. Graduate students from Caltech, MIT, and the thirty-five institutions that make up the LIGO Scientific Collaboration are now playing various roles in the commissioning and operation of LIGO as part of their graduate education. At LIGO Hanford, there are graduate students working from the University of Rochester, an institution without a formal role in LIGO but with adventurous graduate students who want to participate. In his remarks, Barry Barish also told the audience about the involvement of high school students in collaborative research at the Hanford Observatory, and described what a positive experience this has been for them, their teacher, and for the LIGO staff. You can see the results, too, at:

Professor Rai Weiss of MIT spoke next, offering a presentation which illustrated for the audience the kinds of activities that K-12 students are introduced to when they visit LIGO on a field trip. With a little help from a pair of inexpensive polarizers and other assorted pieces of plastic, many properties of light can be experienced directly, and Rai soon had the audience shedding their inhibitions as university vice-chancellors, congressional staffers, and assorted deans inspected the sky, sought reflections off the floor, and wondered why it is you can see colors in a stretched piece of plastic.

Scenes from an educational tour:

In the first photo, shown are (l-r) Dr. Excyie Ryder, Chair, Department of Science and Math Education, Southern University; Amanda P. Larkins, Director of Media Relations, Southern University; Dr. Brenda S. Birkett, Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs, Southern University; Dr. Mildred Smalley, Vice Chancellor for Research and Strategic Initiatives, Southern University; Dr. Steve McGuire, Professor and Chair, Department of Physics, Southern University.

Then, in the second photo: Dr. Mark Coles, Head of the LIGO Livingston Observatory; Dr. Birkett; Don Powers, Vice President, Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce; Jane Harrington, Program Officer, EHR / EPSCoR / NSF; Dr. Norman Fortenberry, Division Director, Division of Undergraduate Education, NSF; Mike Hawkins, Coordinator, Space Science Group, Northwestern State Univesity.

Next, in the third photo are seen Warren Johnson, Professor of Physics, LSU; and Dick Greenwood, Professor of Physics, Louisiana Tech University.

Finally in the last photo, the line-up includes: Dr. Smalley; Sue Mendelsohn of the Lederman Science Center at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; Dr. Fortenberry; Mr. Hawkins; Michael Stubblefield, Director, Center for Energy & Environmental Studies, Southern University; Henry Blount, Head, Office of Multidisciplinary Activities, MPS / OAD / NSF; Mr. Powers; Dr. Coles; Christina Casteel, Chief of Staff to Congressman Richard Baker; Ms. Larkin.

Photo 1. Photo 2. Photo 3. Photo 4.

To see a complete set of photos from the May 17th tour, click here.

A Science Center for the Community

I then spoke with the audience about LIGOís interest in establishing an educational outreach center, a move that would make the Observatory even more accessible to the community. The three goals of a LIGO outreach center would be to enrich K-12 science education in the region, strengthen in-service and pre-service teacher education, and provide infrastructure for vocational education programs that would utilize the LIGO facility for on-the-job training programs in such areas as plant maintenance, high vacuum systems, and computer network systems administration. A central focus of the outreach center would be a remotely controllable sixteen-inch telescope funded by the State of Louisiana and situated on the LIGO site. Funds for the telescope have been granted by the Louisiana Technology Innovation Fund through the efforts of Professor Greg Guzik of the LSU Physics Department. The telescope will be accessible via the internet so that school classes can submit requests and view images from their classrooms. A possible layout of the outreach center is shown below.

Drawing of the proposed outreach center.

In addition to the telescope, key features of the center would be a large exhibition area with hands-on exhibits of LIGO science, a large teacher workroom and workshop where educational resource materials can be created by teachers and others for use in school settings, a classroom for teacher training and "Saturday Morning Science" classes with children, and integral access to the 150-seat LIGO auditorium for lectures, movies, and other presentations.

Sue Mendelsohn of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory then spoke about the Leon Lederman Science Center. The Lederman Center was created about fifteen years ago with objectives similar to those of our proposed LIGO center. It hosts around ten thousand students every year and many hundreds of teachers have participated in its various teacher in-service programs. Its programs have been very well-received and utilized by Illinois educators. Sue has kindly provided a written copy of her remarks, which we have included below.

Christina Casteel, Chief of Staff for Congressman Richard Baker, then provided remarks written by the Congressman. Unfortunately, Congressman Baker was unable to attend due to conflicting obligations, but he did take the time to write a speech urging the audience to consider an education center. Once again, as he did at the LIGO Inauguration festivities, Congressman Baker impressed us with his eloquence and enthusiasm for LIGO, because of its science, the educational opportunity for Louisiana that it represents and, at a deeper level, its stirring of a fundamental curiosity about the universe and mankindís place within it. We thought you would enjoy reading his remarks in their entirety, so they too are included below.

Dr. Vic Cook of the National Science Foundation closed the presentation with brief remarks encouraging further discussion of the proposed center. We were very pleased with the enthusiastic response of the regional educators to our invitation to come together for this meeting, and would like to thank the following additional individuals for their participation:

Theresa Byrd -- Director of Constituent Services -- Congressman Richard Baker

Brenda Nixon -- Project Director -- Delta Rural Systemic Initiative

Lee Meyer -- Field Coordinator -- Delta Rural Systemic Initiative

Deborah Whitfield -- Field Coordinator -- Delta Rural Systemic Initiative

Monica Ballay -- Teacher -- Denham Springs High School

Jane Harrington -- Program Officer -- EHR / EPSCoR / NSF

Joe Bragin -- Program Officer -- CREST-EHR / HRD / NSF

Don Powers -- Vice President -- Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce

Wilson Doucette -- Teacher -- Istrouma High School

Jonathan Bagger -- Professor of Physics -- Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Doris Carver -- Project Manager -- La EPSCoR

Warren Curtis -- Superintendent -- Livingston Parish School Board

Claudia Fowler -- Science/Math Coordinator -- Louisiana Public Broadcasting

Faimon Roberts -- Assistant Project Director for Science -- Louisiana Systemic Initiative

Anne Wilson -- State Department Program Director -- Louisiana Systemic Initiative

Dr. Zeno "Dick" Greenwood -- Professor of Physics -- Louisiana Tech University

Dr. Harold Silverman -- Dean of the College of Basic Sciences -- LSU

Dr. Isiah Warner -- Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives -- LSU

Henry Blount -- Head Office of Multidisciplinary Activities -- MPS / OAD / NSF

Mike Hawkins -- Coordinator, Space Science Group -- Northwestern State University

Dr. Norman Fortenberry -- Division Director, Division of Undergraduate Education -- NSF

Dr. Randy Moffett -- Vice President -- SLU

Dr. Sany Yoshida -- Professor of Physics -- SLU

Dr. John Trowbridge -- Interim Head, Department of Teaching and Learning -- SLU

Dr. Martha Head -- Dean, College of Education and Human Development -- SLU

Dr. Emily O. Bond -- Director, Sponsored Research and Programs -- SLU

Dr. Dan McCarthy -- Professor of Physics -- SLU

Dr. Steve McGuire -- Professor and Chair, Department of Physics -- Southern University

Dr. Mildred Smalley -- Vice Chancellor for Research and Strategic Initiatives -- Southern University

Dr. Excyie Ryder -- Chair, Department of Science and Math Education -- Southern University

Dr. Brenda S. Birkett -- Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs -- Southern University

Michael Stubblefield -- Director, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies -- Southern University

Amanda P. Larkins -- Director of Media Relations -- Southern University

Dr. Kerry Davidson -- Deputy Commissioner for Sponsored Programs -- Louisiana Board of Regents

The Impact of the Lederman Center on Science Education in Illinois

Sue Mendelsohn

Thank you for inviting me to do something I enjoy; talk about the benefits of having a science education center with access to real live working scientists, engineers, and technicians of various kinds, in our community. We frequently get calls or letters from students writing papers or doing projects; from teachers expanding curricula or checking accuracy, from people with curiosity. It's great to have this uncommon service available!

I've been asked to discuss: one, the role of educational activities at the Lederman SciEdCtr; two, how well the Lederman SciEdCtr is used; and three, its impact on science education and teacher in-service training in the surrounding region.

1. Educational activities at the Lederman SciEdCtr.

We believe that we can have the biggest impact on improved science and math education by reaching as many teachers and educators as possible, who in turn can reach their numerous students. The students and the teachers are the agents of change; we are the catalyst. We leave the actual teaching and curriculum design in their capable hands. We provide resources, ideas, special programs, guidance, and chances for collaboration and exchange of information.

Before the Center was built, we invited a group of K-12 teachers from diverse schools in the local area to help with a needs assessment. As a result of these discussions, we designed our building to have four major educational areas: hands-on interactive science exhibits; a science laboratory (tables, sinks, gas jets, computers, etc.); a technology classroom (20 computers, a projector, lots of software); and a Teacher Resource Center (books, laser disks, video and audio tapes, CDs, now DVDs, computers).

Our programs were also designed and developed after consultations with teachers about their specific needs and desires for improved science education. Some have been revamped and updated over the years, always with additional teacher suggestions and help. One of the unique components provided by Fermilab was the many volunteer scientists, engineers, and technicians who provided professional advice and review at all stages of the project development and implementation.

2. Use of the Lederman SciEdCtr.

The Education Office at Femilab consists of nine full-time and five part-time employees, plus 18 to 20 on-call docents. The Lederman Center is a separate one-story building of about 9000 square feet. Five of the staff members are on-site in a "staff area."

Many, but not all, of our Educational Activities take place in the Center. Our building's busiest seasons are fall and spring, when teachers schedule class field trips to visit Fermilab. At least one teacher from each participating elementary or middle school must have attended one of our teacher workshops, so that the classes have been prepared for the visit. We offer different kinds of field trips based on grade level and content; for example, "Particles and Prairies," "Beneath the Ashes," and "Beauty and Charm."

From September through the beginning of November 2000, about 7700 school children visited Fermilab. Starting in March of 2001 and ending about Memorial Day, we expect to have had about 3800 additional school visitors. Several hundred high school students visit in the less popular winter months. Our on-call docents lead all the school tours, in groups of approximately 20 students per docent. Not all of the tours include a visit to the Lederman Center; those that do use either the exhibits or the science laboratory. Some of the high school tours include a visit to an experiment or other appropriate worksite. You can imagine the careful scheduling that is required!

All of the high school tours and the middle school physics tours meet with a scientist for a half-hour Q & A session. We are extremely fortunate to have the support of the Director, and the heads of various divisions at the lab. These scientists are all volunteers, taking time out from their own busy workdays. Response from teachers, students, and parent chaperones is excellent.

During the summer, and also on occasional Saturdays throughout the year, we offer fee based Science Adventures. These are taught by local teachers and our docents, and are well-attended by local children and families. Most of the ideas for an Adventure are proposals from the instructors. The teacher workshops are also offered in the summer.

Teachers use the Center in several ways. In order to bring an elementary or middle school group, teachers must attend an appropriate fee-based summer workshop to learn about the required pre-visit curriculum. High school teachers may bring science or other interested classes without having completed a workshop. The subsequent field trips are free.

Teachers may opt to take our workshops for graduate credit. We have an arrangement with Aurora University, which reviewed and approved the courses, assigned credit hours, and granted our staff adjunct professor status. The teachers pay AU $50 per credit hour, not included in our course fee.

Educators of all sorts visit our Teacher Resource Center year round, as do college and university education students, to plan curriculum additions and changes, review texts, find new material, develop programs, etc. As a clearinghouse and central point for math, science and technology education, we serve three main groups: the educational research community (universities, colleges, education laboratories); scientists; and educational practitioners (teachers, librarians, administrators). We are an official demonstration sight for the Eisenhower National Clearing House, and a partner in several local, state, and regional organizations. Our TRC director does a great deal of in-service teacher training, both by bringing groups to our Center, and by traveling to districts within an eight-state region. The TRC publishes and distributes a biannual newsletter featuring an interview with a lab scientist, "bookmarks" (websites, book titles, etc.) relevant to the topics of the issue, Fermilab research and Education Office program updates, and resources such as free materials, grant information, and other opportunities.

Many teachers participate in our special programs funded by grants from many places (NSF, NASA, the state of IL, DOE, NIH, and the US Dept of Education, etc.). Among them are: ARISE, a group of high school teachers working on a standards-based three-year curriculum; LINC On-Line, a K-16 classroom technology program training teachers to integrate the internet in developing and using inquiry based learning units; QuarkNet, which allows high school students and teachers to work closely with university researchers on major physics experiments at FNAL and CERN. To date, the LINC website had recorded nearly seven million hits from 81 countries!

Another in-house teacher program (not a grant) is Phriendly Physics, which reduces the phear of physical sciences among elementary school teachers by exploring the fundamentals of physics through open-ended experiments, demonstrations, and dialogues with scientists. They return to the classroom better prepared to teach science because of their increased knowledge, understanding, and confidence, and because of the many curriculum ideas, activities, and materials.

3. Impact on the surrounding region.

The impact of Fermilab's Education Office and of the Lederman Science Education Center is difficult to measure. We have emphasized inquiry based learning, hands-on activities, adventure, experimentation, problem solving, and various other techniques that are not amenable to standardized testing. Furthermore, and even more important, we have never tried to measure in a quantitative way. But unsolicited testimonials from teachers and students, as well as from parent field trip chaperones, have been wonderful. Teachers look forward to bringing new groups of students to visit Fermilab year after year.

Another important aspect of our success is the additional funding we have been able to obtain via the Friends of Fermilab, a registered not-for-profit corporation devoted to science education. Most of the members are interested local residents. FFLA has successfully raised private money and won IL state grants not available to Fermilab itself. We have used this money for both program development costs and building equipment. The organization sponsored more than 30 programs, and contributed over $1.5 million from 36 primary funding sources.

I'd like you to hear a few comments from the report of a Visiting Review Committee addressing this very issue of community benefit.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the program is filling a niche within the community that is not and presently cannot be filled by the local school system. Every teacher and administrator interviewed had nothing but glowing praise for the quality of the programs and the support given to them personally and professionally."

"Teachers and students are taught to collect information, to analyze results, and to draw conclusions, rather than to seek the "right" answer. From this, teachers learn to model those behaviors that the Education Office considers desirable."

And a quote from a teacher: "One of the things Fermilab has done is to help us feel like true professionals. It's difficult to put a price tag on that. Rise in self-esteem and tremendous."

I will gladly give anyone a copy of the report.

We are firmly convinced that the surrounding communities have benefited enormously from the presence of the Lederman Center and the EO programs. Obviously, better teachers produce and inspire better students who grow up to be better citizens. Although our building was not designed primarily as a drop-in center, we have visits from the general public almost daily. We were crowded at our infrequent Sunday afternoon "open house" events advertised in the local papers and our visitors' comments were favorable. Sometimes students who have visited on field trips return with their parents and siblings.

We know that we are increasing the public's awareness of and appreciation for science and scientists. Perhaps this will translate into increased money for pure research. We believe that as more students who have been to our programs, as well as students who have had more enthusiastic science education from teachers we have touched, reach voting age, they may very well have positive thoughts about scientific research and its benefits, even if their careers or jobs have little or no direct connection to science.

I live in a town very close to Fermilab; my daughters attended the public schools there. We are nearly 50 miles west of Chicago. Parents are grateful to have an interesting place nearby to take their children--without the hassles of either traffic or inconvenient train schedules and without an entry fee. Teachers are delighted with the state of the art preview center and the wealth of curriculum information--with no parking problems.

For one of our recent special projects, a teacher assigned to 7th graders the in-class project "describe and draw a scientist." Nearly every drawing depicted a male figure in a white coat, often with glasses; and the narratives talked about serious work. Then the teacher brought the students to Fermilab, where they met in small groups with two different scientists for open discussions, questions, and answers. The "describe and draw a scientist" project was repeated. Suddenly the drawings showed men and women with striped t-shirts, muscles, smiles, etc.; and the words mentioned, families, hobbies, and the fun of asking and trying to nswer puzzling questions. Scientists are people, too! Having a Science Center in the community is a tremendous benefit to everyone.

National Science Foundation Visit to LIGO

Remarks by Congressman Richard H. Baker (LA-06)

Livingston, Louisiana

May 17, 2001

Presented by Christina Casteel

Chief of Staff

Exploration of the wonders that surround us is usually limited to what we can easily observe. For most people, we often marvel at the beauty of a sunrise or the magnificence of a full moon, but it is impossible to fathom the magnitude of the universe that surrounds us.

Eta Carinae--a mere 7.5 light years away, observable only from the southern hemisphere--is a spectacular astronomical object, but it is virtually unknown to everyone who finds the sunset so beautiful. Yet, should it supernovae, no one can be sure of the consequences for our own planet. Attempting to comprehend such dynamic forces of nature should be among the most important missions of humankind.

I am indeed taken back by the reality that such an effort would not only take place in my lifetime, but that it would occur in my own Congressional District. The construction of an instrument with the capability to possibly quantify Einsteinís theory of relativity is indeed a remarkable achievement. The fact that this would occur in Louisiana is, in the eyes of some, indeed a remarkable occurrence as well.

The decision of the NSF to consider the construction of an interpretive center is of far reaching consequence. The potential to engage young minds in the field of science, and to perhaps instill the desire to study the night sky, is of immeasurable value. Certainly the validation of gravity wave propagation will be received with excitement by those who can actually understand space-time warps and string theory, but the broader impact on society may well result from walking through the interactive center at LIGO. How does one calculate the value of instilling scientific curiosity in the mind of a twelve year old? It is a certainty that over the life of this project, countless people will come to a better appreciation for the vast space that surrounds us.

K.C. Cole writes in The Hole in the Universe, "Looking out into the universe is something like looking into a deep pool that is constantly disturbed by the passage of boats and fishes. Like the songs of the great whales that circle the globe just under the watery surface, the songs of the stars ripple through the heavens. Until now, we have been as deaf to the music of the stars as to the songs of the whales. And yet, itís not that hard to imagine exploding stars and colliding black holes calling to one another through the darkness of space, broadcasting bulletins of their violent births and mergers."

It is my hope that during my brief passage through this universe, that I may share with you the joy of hearing the music of the stars...knowing that the composer was from a distant place and the songs were written eons ago, which now fall gently on this place for all to hear.

For all of us who are amazed by the work you do, thank you for making a place where we may admire your handiwork, and know that I offer my continued enthusiastic support for all of your endeavors.