‘Making the Invisible Visible’ was an interactive experience manned by three different groups working within the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. A poor knowledge of physics was certainly not a barrier to understanding the exhibits.
First on the exhibit list was a display of telescopes and binoculars by the University of Birmingham Astronomical Society. Being light outside, there were no real stars to see, but the group were enthusiastic and armed with an invitation to their public lecture series ‘Tea, Talk and Telescope’ and a free Stargazing Live 2013 Star Guide to aid in an independent exploration of the heavens. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for their next lecture series.
Next was the Particle Physics group, with a beautiful exhibit of ‘Visible Radiation’. In a chamber super-saturated with alcohol and vapour on the edge of condensing, a single particle of radiation can trigger condensation and a tiny stream of iridescent droplets can be seen floating downwards. Also on display was a muon detector, which counts the cosmic rays passing through us and Earth. It was fascinating to watch the counter ticking upwards while listening to the explanation of muons and cosmic rays, not feeling a thing but knowing these things were going through me. Further information about the Particle Physics group’s outreach programme can be found on their website.
Lastly the Gravitational Waves group ventured through space-time, teaching us how space is bent by heavy masses, and that is why small objects in space orbit larger ones. We also learnt how heavy orbiting bodies can create gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space time, which cause it to expand and contract. They explained that gravitational waves had never been directly detected, but that attempts to detect them were underway and that a direct observation could transform our understanding of fundamental physics. More information about their outreach activities can be found on their website.
There was also a series of talks given over the course of the evening to introduce people to some of the theories on display. I attended the talk by Chiara Mingarelli on ‘Discovering Black Holes with Gravitational Waves’. The lecture was given with boundless enthusiasm and she engaged the audience with clear and simple explanations of complex physics.
All the exhibitors exuded enthusiasm for their subjects and were willing to explain their work; they made physics fun, relevant, and captured the imagination. It was a great evening of learning and discovery.