An interactive gravitational-wave detector model for museums and fairs

Cooper, S. J. et al. (2021) An interactive gravitational-wave detector model for museums and fairs. American Journal of Physics, 89(7), pp. 702-712. (doi: 10.1119/10.0003534)

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In 2015, the first observation of gravitational waves marked a breakthrough in astrophysics and in technological research and development. The discovery of a gravitational-wave signal from the collision of two black holes, a billion light-years away, received considerable interest from the media and public. We describe the development of a purpose-built exhibit explaining this new area of research to a general audience. The core element of the exhibit is a working Michelson interferometer: a scaled-down version of the key technology used in gravitational-wave detectors. The Michelson interferometer is integrated into a hands-on exhibit, which allows for user interaction and simulated gravitational-wave observations. An interactive display provides a self-guided explanation of gravitational-wave related topics through video, animation, images, and text. We detail the hardware and software used to create the exhibit, and discuss two installation variants: An independent learning experience in a museum setting (the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum) and a science-festival with the presence of expert guides (the 2017 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition). We assess audience reception in these two settings, describe the improvements we have made given this information, and discuss future public-engagement projects resulting from this work. The exhibit is found to be effective in communicating the new and unfamiliar field of gravitational-wave research to general audiences. An accompanying website provides parts lists and information for others to build their own version of this exhibit.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Berry, Dr Christopher
Authors: Cooper, S. J., Green, A. C., Middleton, H. R., Berry, C. P. L., Buscicchio, R., Butler, E., Collins, C. J., Gettings, C., Hoyland, D., Jones, A. W., Lindon, J. H., Romero-Shaw, I., Stevenson, S. P., Takeva, E. P., Vinciguerra, S., Vecchio, A., Mow-Lowry, C. M., and Freise, A.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Physics and Astronomy
Journal Name:American Journal of Physics
Publisher:American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)
ISSN (Online):1943-2909
Published Online:21 June 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 AAPT
First Published:First published in American Journal of Physics 89(7): 702-712
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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