Kaylin Callihan, 9, of Zachary, and Hartland Litolff, 12, of Livingston, used high-tech equipment to keep a balloon in the air at the Balloon Berouli Blower exhibit during LIGO’s recent Science Saturday program.
They were two of the children from across the state who gathered Aug. 15 at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Livingston to learn more about how people detect things using their senses and other instruments.
At the balloon exhibit, children learned about detectors and how the facility uses them to identify gravitational waves. Science Education Center Program Leader William Katzman explained how gravitational waves could come from things like supernovas — exploding stars — or huge masses undergoing violent accelerations.
Children and adults walked through interactive exhibits introducing them to science and sparking interest in learning more.
LIGO’s Science Saturday series takes places on the third Saturday of every month at the facility.
Visitors viewed exhibits and had an opportunity to tour the control room where the LIGO laser is operated and data is collected.
Although the center conducts high-level research, LIGO scientists are looking to interest all types of people in science.
“We’re an active research laboratory, and we’re looking to leverage that to inspire the scientist in everyone,” Katzman said. “We all have inbuilt detectors and we really don’t know a lot about them, considering that we use them every day. All our senses, those are kind of our inbuilt detectors, and that’s how we experience the world.”
Amy Tull, 35, of Baton Rouge, brought her daughter, Anna Tull, 3, to the event.
“We love science, and it’s the way the world works, so it’s a great way for us to learn,” Amy Tull said. “I think it’s inborn with all little ones. They want to know what makes the world go, and they’re very curious. Hopefully this will spark something down the road eventually.”
Amber Stuver, 36, is a data analyst and scientist at the facility who wants to find a way to make her complex job appealing to others, especially young people.
“I’m one of the fewer scientists here who actually takes the data we collect and looks in it for the gravitational waves,” Stuver said. “The reason I’m here doing what I’m doing is because I had a really awesome high school teacher. Sometimes I have students who say, ‘Are you really a scientist? You don’t look like a scientist.’ I take them over and show them the control room, where they get to see scientists working and see that they’re everyday people.”
Vanessa Womax, 38, of New Orleans, heard about the event on Facebook and brought her daughter, Sophia Womax, 9, to help satisfy her thirst for scientific knowledge.
“My daughter is extremely interested in science, so I try to find any opportunity for her to come learn things, because it’s exhausting for me to try to find things to do with her,” Womax said. “She recently expressed some interest in outer space and becoming an astronaut. I thought I would expose her to as much as I can, so she can make informed decisions about her career. Instead of asking me questions, now she can ask everyone else questions.”
The event had a variety of interactive booths that allowed visitors to do everything from listening to music through solar power to guessing the smells they were inhaling.
LIGO scientists said Science Saturday is designed to make science more accessible and appealing.
“What we really hope to do is help people realize there is incredible science going on in their backyard and inspire the next generation of scientists,” Katzman said.