A recap of Fermilab Family Open House: Virtual Edition

From Feb. 10–14, the Fermilab Office of Education and Public Engagement held its first-ever virtual Family Open House. With live and on-demand content throughout the five-day event, attendees could participate in real time or enjoy programming on their own schedule, with over 10,000 interactions from 45 states and over 20 countries. The EPE Office is excited about both a very successful five days and about how it can be carried forward.

The kick-off live event was a look behind the scenes at Fermilab during which participants were guided through a virtual tour of the lab. As tours are typically quite a draw during the in-person open house, the virtual version hosted five different virtual tours, many taking viewers to parts of the lab that are inaccessible to the public.

An added bonus of the virtual event was the chance to interact with students during the school day. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday each featured career talks from Fermilab staff and topic-based visits such as “Simple Machines Give You Amazing Powers,” “Wonders of Color and Light,” and “Simon Says Build an Electromagnet.” These well-attended events taught students about physics principles and different STEM careers. Elementary school students gained a first-hand understanding of what a career as a science journalist might be like as they had a chance to interview lab staff. With student questions on subjects such as making DNA and holding moon rocks, Fermilab interviewees were kept on their virtual toes and did an excellent job sharing what it is like to work at Fermilab.

Top row, from left: Maurice Ball gives a virtual tour of the Main Injector during The Science of Fermilab; Justin Dunn reads Astrophysics for Babies; Daniel Bowring is featured as a Fan Favorite in PechaKucha Batavia; tattoo art is displayed in Be a Part of pARTicles. Bottom row, from left: Jerry Zimmerman gives a virtual Mr. Freeze presentation; Brendan Casey competes in Iron Scientist; David Ibbett presents A History of Art and Science at Fermilab; Silvia Zorzetti gives a virtual Quantum Lab tour.

As a way to wind down after the eventful days, at 7 p.m. each evening, kids could tune into the Fermilab EPE Facebook page to enjoy a science-related bedtime story. Books included “Quantum Mechanics for Babies,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer” and “I Wish I Was a Bison.” These bedtime stories were so well-attended that the EPE Office is looking to make them a regular part of the programming.

Fermilab arts programming, including the Arts and Lecture Series at Home and the Fermilab Art Gallery, was incorporated in this year’s Open House. Fermilab historian Valerie Higgins spoke about the history of women at Fermilab in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Former artist-in-residence Jim Jenkins spoke about finding significance in the insignificant, and Tanaz Mohayai, Jen Raaf, and Jim Welsh discussed how particle physics has contributed to the medical field. During a talk on the history of the arts at the lab, Fermilab Performing Arts Manager Janet MacKay-Galbraith performed a new composition by David Ibbett, Fermilab guest composer. The music was inspired by the lab’s neutrino experiments. For artists looking to participate themselves, the Be a Part of pARTicles virtual art gallery gave them that chance. Submissions of particular note include a drawing of a neutrino by a nine-year-old aspiring scientist and a bubble chamber tattoo designed as a memorial to a Fermilab engineer of 28 years. The gallery is online.

The Family Open House would not be complete without perennial favorite Mr. Freeze (Fermilab’s Jerry Zimmerman), and this year was no exception. Viewers watched some classic Mr. Freeze video footage and were then able to ask questions. The virtual format allowed participants to see tabletop cryogenic demos — easier virtually than in person. New to the open house was a highlight of the work done at the lab as a National Environmental Research Park. Attendees learned about the plants and wildlife critical to the lab’s restoration efforts.

The Virtual Family Open House closing event, Iron Scientist, pitted Fermilab Muon g-2 scientist and Reverse Science Fair winner Brendan Casey against Northern Illinois University STEM educator and demo guru Jeremy Benson. Each competitor received a mystery box of items that they had to use to demonstrate the Laws of Attraction. The audience vote would decide who would be declared the Iron Scientist. Brendan emerged the victor after successfully explaining three of the four fundamental forces using magnets, balloons, Baby Yoda and a pink flamingo.

While Big Science is something that needs to be experienced in person, the EPE Office was excited about being able to offer so much virtually. In the future, much of what was done virtually can be transitioned to in-person, including the Be a Part of pARTicles art gallery and adult-focused programs such as the Arts and Lecture Series. And, of course, we hope Brendan will return to defend his title in person in 2022.

Without the support of the entire lab, this event would have never happened. EPE would like to thank the following Fermilab participants who supported this year’s Open House:

Abhilash Yallappa Dombara, Aisha Ibrahim, Alexx Perloff, Alyssa Miller, Angela Fava, Anna Campbell, Anna Hall, Anne Heavey, Anne Schukraft, Aria Soha, Bob Zwaska, Brendan Casey, Brian Drendel, Brianna Barbu, Chris Madrid, Cindy Joe, Cristina Mantilla Suarez, Dave Harding, Dawn Staszak, Denis Kania, Dennis Nicklaus, Donna Kubik, Elvin Harms, Gillian King-Cargile, Gray Putnam, Jacques Hooymans, Jakob Schaefer, Jen Raaf, Jeny Teheran, Jeremy Benson, Jerry Zimmerman, Jessica Esquivel, Jessica Jensen, Jim Welsh, Julian Badillo, Julius Borchert, Justine Dunn, Kaori Maeshima, Krista Majewski, Kurt Riesselmann, Lauren Biron, Lauren Yates, Lidija Kokoska, Linda Valerio, Liz Copeland, Luciano Elementi, Lucy Nobrega, Manolis Kargiantoulakis, Margaret Votava, Maria Martinez Casales, Mark Donnelly, Martin Bentivengo, Mattia Checchin, Maureen Huey, Ohana Rodrigues, Pam Johnson, Penny Kasper, Roser Matamala, Ryan Heller, Sai Manohari Kancharla, Scarlet Norberg, Silvia Zorzetti, Tanaz Mohayai, Tanya Levshina, Tara Hohoff, Valerie Higgins, Wally Levernier, and Yvonne Twomey

Amanda Early is the Fermilab education program leader for the Open House.