A Grand Slam for Science

SLAC in the Batter's Box as 30,000 at AT&T Park Cap Off 2012 Bay Area Science Festival
By Andy Freeberg
November 8, 2012

One week after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, a crowd of more than 30,000 took over AT&T Park for "Discovery Days," the climactic event of the second annual Bay Area Science Festival. In our first year participating, SLAC was front and center for the event, with a booth only steps from Giants home plate.

"The response was amazing and our location was stellar," said Mary Moseley, a member of SLAC's community relations team who organized the lab's presence at Discovery Days. "If anything, the biggest challenge was to keep up with such an overwhelming response!"

Considering the beautiful Saturday weather, the chance to have free rein of the baseball field and the World Series trophy on display, it's no wonder so many came out for the free event. When they arrived, they also found more than 150 exhibits from San Francisco Bay Area science institutions, including an entire whale skeleton, a robotics competition and a booth full of dissected squid. SLAC’s was among a dozen displays from Stanford alone. 

Reprising the popularity of exhibits at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, SLAC represented both photon science and particle astrophysics with hands-on demonstrations. Visitors were invited to view 3-D astrophysics simulations and perform laser diffraction on a hair from their head to measure its diameter.


The SLAC booth remained densely crowded throughout the day, with a line for the laser diffraction experiment that formed almost immediately after the festival opened and didn't die off until the park closed and visitors were ushered off the field. As the day went on, SLAC kept a record of the hair measurements, updated live online, reaffirming that most people's hair is 70-90 microns in diameter (the average strand at Discovery Days was 86 microns).

Sam Webb, a staff scientist at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, found himself snipping hair all day long as he explained the fundamentals of laser diffraction to inquisitive minds both young and old.

"It was fun to see the kids get so excited to perform the experiment. They really enjoyed getting their results and comparing their measurements with their family or the rest of the day's distribution," said Webb. "You could see it really hit home when we explained to them that the X-ray light sources at SLAC can measure items that are even thousands of times smaller than the width of a hair."

The Bay Area Science Festival is a 10-day event created and run by the University of California, San Francisco's Science and Health Education Partnership. The organization is led by Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Sciences and current editor-in-chief of Science; it also helps organize and advertise Bay Area science events year-round.

In addition to the booth at Discovery Days, SLAC participated in this year's festival by organizing tours for about 300 local families from nearby schools. SLAC's community relations team believes the festival provides a prime opportunity for raising awareness about SLAC while reaching local youth with education and outreach initiatives, and hopes to participate again in future years.

"I feel really privileged to get to bring SLAC's science to all of these kids," said Moseley. "To me it's just a really worthwhile event."


Photo - AT&T Park's baseball field full of families and tents
On Saturday, Nov. 3, more than 30,000 San Francisco area residents visited AT&T Park for Discovery Days, a free exhibition of science and technology organized as part of the Bay Area Science Festival. (Photos by Andy Freeberg)
Photo - SLAC's Discovery Days booth sitting just steps away from Giants home plate
SLAC's Discovery Days booth was just steps away from Giants home plate.
Photo - A child watches as SLAC's Daniel Ratner measures the width of his hair
A boy watches with interest as SLAC's Daniel Ratner uses a laser to measure the width of his hair.