Lessons for the Scientist-Communicator: A Case Study of The Dark Energy Survey Education & Public Outreach Program

As large-scale international collaborations become the standard for astronomy research, a wealth of opportunities have emerged to create innovative education and public outreach (EPO) programming. In the past two decades, large collaborations have focused EPO strategies around published data products. Newer collaborations have begun to explore other avenues of public engagement before and after data are made available.

In this seminar, I will present a case study of the online EPO program of The Dark Energy Survey, currently one of the largest international astronomy collaborations actively taking data. DES EPO is unique at this scale in astronomy, as far as we are aware, as it evolved organically from scientists’ passion for EPO and is entirely organized and implemented by the volunteer efforts of collaboration scientists. I will summarize the strategy and implementation of eight EPO initiatives. For content distributed via social media, I will present reach and user statistics over the 2016 calendar year. DES EPO online products reached ~2,500 users per post, and 94% of these users indicate a predisposition to science-related interests. We find no obvious correlation between post type and post reach, with the most popular posts featuring the intersections of science and art and/or popular culture.

We conclude that one key issue of the online DES EPO program was designing material which would inspire new interest in science. The greatest difficulty of the online DES EPO program was sustaining scientist participation and collaboration support; the most successful programs are those which capitalized on the hobbies of participating scientists. I will also present statistics and recommendations, along with observations from individual experience, as a potentially instructive resource for scientists or EPO professionals interested in organizing EPO programs and partnerships for large science collaborations or organizations.