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Education and Outreach Options in Fusion and Plasma Physics

Education and outreach activities are discussed each year in meetings and a poster session during the annual meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society, and a network of committed outreach people is evolving. In addition to the links here on FusEdWeb, there is a "National Education Outreach" page which lists many of the activities here in the U.S.

This page is more theoretical and provides a high-level analytical framework for evaluating various options for education and outreach in the areas of fusion and plasma physics. The question is, how can we best use our resources to reach out and educate people about Plasma Science in general and Fusion in particular? The idea of the framework below is to help interested people develop new ideas and maximize the educational benefit achieved for a given amount of effort. It may have general value in other areas of science as well.

General Classification of Education/Outreach Activities:

Education and Outreach Opportunities can be classified in several ways, such as according to Scale, Audience, Presenter and Medium. Within each classification there are many ways one can disseminate information. It is probably worth considering the means at your disposal and then asking what approach will best achieve your goals. The following classification scheme may be useful:

  1. Scale: How many people does the effort reach, and over what geography?
    • Individual? (Reaches one or a few people.)
    • Group? (Several people at once, such as a class.)
    • Local? (Communities near labs or universities.)
    • National? (Many people across the country.)
    • International?
  2. Audience: What sort of person does the effort reach?
    • Everyone?
    • Pre-school students?
    • Elementary School students?
    • High School students?
    • College students?
    • Teachers?
    • Physicists?
    • Other Scientists?
    • Engineers?
    • Technicians?
  3. Speaker/Author/Presenter: Who makes the effort to reach out?
    • Teacher?
    • Government Official?
    • Physicist?
    • Engineer?
    • Technician?
    • Non-technical Lab Staff?
    • Interested Lay Person?
    • Student?
  4. Medium: What is the means for the outreach?
    • Personal Appearance (Talk)? (School? Organizations? Congress?)
    • Printed periodical (Article)? (Newspaper, Magazine articles or ads)
    • Internet? (Web, Newsgroups, Mailing Lists, Online Services)
    • Museum or Other Exhibits?
    • Movie or Television?
    • Book?
    • Mailing List?
    • Music?
    • Toys?
    • Products: Mousepads, Coffee Cups, other goods
  5. Outcome: Impact per Person - how much do they learn?
  6. Cost: How Much Labor, Time and Money is Required?
  7. Resources: How much hardware, floor space, expertise, etc. is required?
  8. Efficiency: How much is learned per unit cost? (e.g., Efficiency = Scale * Outcome / Cost)
  9. Buzz Effect: how likely is it that the audience will share the message with others?
  10. Mobilization: does this energize others in the research community to do things themselves?

Some Specific Arenas for Education and Outreach:

Obviously the various dimensions above - scale, audience, presenter, medium, etc. - create a large "phase space" for education and outreach activities. It's impossible to exhaustively tabulate all the possible things one can do! But for starters, here's a brief list (not in any particular order). Many of these activities are actively pursued already, and it is possible to join in and help out an ongoing effort. But many are not being done at all, and one can easily break new ground.

  1. Science Museums:
    1. Develop a large exhibit that can travel around each year.
    2. Develop smaller permanent exhibits that can remain behind after the large exhibit is done. (In collaboration with the museum, so we provide technical info, and they make what they like.)
    3. Develop a fusion videotape walking people through one of these exhibits
    4. Create an interactive multimedia computer program (virtual museum).
    5. Lab = Museum: Have different labs share materials and maintain substantial permanent exhibits at labs, and give tours.
  2. Introductory Science classes for young students
  3. Continuing-education classes for adults
  4. Presentations to technical societies
  5. Lab tours
  6. Cooperative work in communities near labs
  7. Informal outreach when we meet with people and discuss what we do.
  8. News media (news articles)
  9. Documentaries (TV, movie)
  10. Books, bookstores
  11. Computer Network discussion forums
    1. Internet Newsgroups: Sci.physics.fusion,, sci.environment, sci.physics, sci.research, sci.physics.plasma
    2. Internet FAQs: sci.answers, news.answers, archives, etc.
    3. World Wide Web (lists of Web sites exist)
    4. Prodigy, Compuserve, America Online chat rooms, etc.
  12. Energy, environment, public policy journals/forums
  13. Congress / Washington
  14. Grassroots political organizations
  15. Opinion media (op-ed articles, letters to editor, etc.)
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