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Journal Article

An Interactive Gravitational-Wave Detector Model for Museums and Fairs


Vinciguerra,  S.
Observational Relativity and Cosmology, AEI-Hannover, MPI for Gravitational Physics, Max Planck Society;

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Cooper, S. J., Green, A. C., Middleton, H. R., Berry, C. P. L., Buscicchio, R., Butler, E., et al. (2021). An Interactive Gravitational-Wave Detector Model for Museums and Fairs. American Journal of Physics, 89(7): 10.0003534, pp. 702-712. doi:10.1119/10.0003534.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-D4FC-D
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.