RHIC Summer Sunday
By Achim Franz and Todd Satogata
July and August brings the usual Long Island summer with its heat and humidity, but for nearly a decade it has a Sunday attraction that brings many visitors to BNL -- usually more than a thousand in one day! The BNL Summer Sunday Tours are held on several Sundays during the summer. Each Summer Sunday highlights a different department, from the firemen to the NOAA weather station. The largest Summer Sunday is usually the one devoted to RHIC, which was held on August 19.
The history of these "Visitors Days", as they were called, first goes back to the 1950s when thousands of people had the opportunity to walk around all over the campus, visit the buildings, and talk to the scientists. There were posters and exhibitions in the different departments. In 1958, Willy Higinbotham of the Instrumentation Division built what is considered the first video game for Visitors Day.
In the mid-1970s the concept was changed because a lab-wide visitors day required the presence of too many employees. A small group was hired and the current concept of one Sunday per department was put into place, now known as the Summer Sunday Tours. In recent years, these Summer Sunday Tours have been very well organized by Barbara Blenn.
The first RHIC Open House was held in February of 1999, just before the first engineering run. Since 1999, RHIC and its experiments have always been part of the Summer Sunday Tours. Many visitors come back every year to see what has changed and what improvements we have made. This shows how important these open houses are to bring highlights of our research to the general public. Having the visitors stand in the experimental halls looking around with a wide-eyed "wow" is something that is difficult to impossible to achieve with just a slideshow.
Upon arriving at BNL, we give visitors a short lecture. This talk gives visitors a feeling for the time and distance scales that we work with at RHIC, describes some of our research in an accessible way, and provides enough background to spark questions for the scientists on location. The visitors are then put on buses and circulated among three locations: the RHIC tunnel at 1005, STAR, and PHENIX. Seeing and standing next to the equipment is one thing, but talking to scientists and touching and handling some of the more unusual materials we use like Pb-glass, GEM foils, wire chamber planes, rhoacell foam, and Nb-Tn superconducting cable is more fun, especially for younger visitors and future scientists.
Summer Sunday tours could not occur without the willingness and dedication of a corps of volunteers. Each location is staffed by about 20 RHIC physicists, engineers, and students from BNL and many of its collaborating instititions, each willing to dedicate a portion of their Sunday in the summer to greeting the public, and sharing the excitement of our research and our facility.
The RHIC Summer Sunday tour averages well over one thousand visitors each year, making it one of the most popular BNL outreach events. This year's Summer Sunday was no exception, even competing with beautiful weather. The feedback from visitors is consistently enthusiastic. The success of this program demonstrates how important this kind of outreach is, not only to our stakeholders and neighbors here on Long Island, but also to inspire younger visitors to consider studies and careers in science and engineering.