This year, Dosenet/Radwatch took a trip to San Francisco’s Oracle Park for the Day in the Bay science fair. Amongst many groups showcasing their affiliated work, UC Berkeley’s premier radiation detection and outreach group joined into the fray.
Plenty of eager kids came up to the table covered in radiation sources, detectors, and an array of shielding material. Each kid and parent had their own set of questions, interests, and background knowledge that was exciting to see! The public’s involvement and curiosity for the radioactive world around us are invigorating and joyous: outreach opportunities like this build community engagement between the civilian and the scientist. Hosting these events allows the community to join in and see the cutting edge work at our nation’s top institutions by our generation’s most capable minds. Community engagement fuels our drive to keep working: the research we do is a public service to improve and advance our way of life.
For background, members of the outreach team that were tabling gave a rundown that started from the fundamentals of what an atom is and then built to an explanation and demonstration of ionizing radiation. Naturally occurring, low-level radioactive sources lined the table and a very helpful and often used chart provided a backdrop and visual aid for the demonstration. Participants were handed the wand of a Geiger counter and measured the count and dose rate of various sources, followed by an explanation of what causes the beeping the counter produces. Various shielding materials were brought in and exchanged in between the wand and source, including cardboard, glass, zinc, copper, and tungsten. Most of the demonstrations were followed by enthralling conversation: small and personal discussions between bright-eyed and excited members of the public and our volunteers.
Communities were inquisitive about many topics, including levels of ingested Radon-222, radiation from phones and microwaves, nuclear waste, power, and the growing medical applications of nuclear technologies. With a goal to educate, each team member provided as sufficient of a response as they could as we worked together to best address the questions that arose. The engagement and collaboration felt great, and smiles circled all around the table. Some questions were more challenging, with some folks posing abstract or cutting edge questions like: “What is energy?” or “What is happening at Hunter’s Point?”, which we addressed to the best of our abilities. Some of the more engaging conversations went on for upwards of 10 minutes, without regard for the age and presumed knowledge of the person. Anyone could ask anything and be met with a keen answer, with some 8-year-olds knowing a little about a lot and some older professor-types engaging us about some of their favorite projects over their tenure.
Seeing and interacting with all sorts of faces and peoples was stunning, an invigorating event to be a part of. Excitement comes to my mind thinking of further work and engagement to come, and a great thanks to the event for hosting us and to the folks for coming out.
In the week prior, there was supposed to be a similar event in the North Bay, which could have had a similar impact, leaving the community better off and educated about anything that caught their eye or struck a new chord with them. However, due to the ongoing Kirkland fire, the event was canceled to accommodate evacuees in the area. This is the third consecutive year when fires in Northern California have significantly impacted residents of the Bay Area. People’s lives are greatly affected by these tragedies, and opportunities lost to educate and excite a new generation as the climate counter ticks down are concerning. Hopefully, in due time, empowered communities can begin questioning the state of things, and who will provide support and due process for the forces responsible for these ongoing tragedies.
Anyone can participate in changing the world, and I am glad to be a part of something that feels like we are making a change, that we can embolden the future generation with knowledge of our past to bring us into a new golden age, with science progressing justice that fuels people to change the world.