Greetings from East Tennessee State University, where I am visiting this week as part of my 2012 "Star Wars Day" activities, giving a talk on the "Physics of Star Wars" next Friday (May the 4th) at the Gray Fossil Museum.
Since last Thursday I've been in Washington DC for the USA Science and Engineering Festival, presenting our LIGO exhibit on gravitational wave astronomy, together with my LSC colleagues Marco Cavaglia, Peter Shawhan, Dennis Ugolini, Cregg Yancey and Andrea Taracchini.
The crowds were pretty vast, particularly on Saturday, and the Festival Supremo Larry Bock (@USAScienceFest) has confirmed that it was the 2nd largest crowd ever at the Convention Center in DC.
Peter Shawan and I were there to set up our display on Thursday morning. Unlike the 2010 Festival, when we had the full-blown "touring" LIGO exhibit in DC (and had to spend many long hours assembling and dismantling it), this time we were going with a much more streamlined exhibit: a tabletop laser interferometer (thanks to Dennis Ugolini and Trinity University in Texas)...
...our perenially popular Black Hole Hunter game...
...and our new LIGO pop-up banner (this is me being interviewed in front of it by the American Physical Society).
And here in front of the banner is Marco Cavaglia (who's been chair of the Education and Public Outreach Group of the LSC since its inception in 2008, but who will hand over the reins to Szabi Marka straight after the Festival on May 1st).
Friday was a Festival "sneak peek", when many schools groups would visit. We had a steady stream of visitors all through the morning, including some very keen school pupils who got wind of the LIGO yo-yos on offer as a prize for completing the Advanced Level of the Black Hole Hunter game.
We were also kept busy because of our great Festival location, not far from the US Air Force fighter plane (!)
and next door to the Planetary Society, and their CEO Bill Nye the Science Guy (photographed here with Dennis).
All credit to Bill Nye, he spent about 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday signing autographs and always made the time to chat to the people who had waited in line to meet him.
It was quite surprising how even young kids knew who he was, as I understand he's not been on TV for a while, but apparently many of his video clips are still used in schools (including his "consider the following" segments - which were very good, even if the jingle threatened to drive us nuts once we'd heard it a few thousand times!).
We had a surprise guest at the exhibit on Saturday; fortunately he seemed to approve!
And Marco tracked down another Festival guest, who was very popular indeed but we still managed to get a photo.
All in all we had a very successful weekend, I think, and (just like in 2010) it was fascinating to see how other organisations and institutions presented their research and discoveries - giving us some great ideas for how better to tell the story of LIGO next time! There are lots more photos from the Festival below.
May the force be with you!