The WYP speakers program

Richard Price, University of Texas at Brownsville rprice-at-phys.utb.edu
In the spring of 2002 the Topical Group, and Jim Isenberg in particular, calculated that 2005 would be coming, and with it the World Year of Physics. To celebrate and exploit WYP, the Executive Committee approved a plan to sponsor a WYP Speakers Program. A task force (Jim Isenberg, Jennie Traschen, along with me as chair) was appointed, and a clear structure and philosophy were identified. The TGG role would be to assemble a list of speakers who were known to be good at outreach, and would try to find a speaker from that list to meet requests for WYP speakers. From the very outset, the prioritization of filling requests was meant to be based on TGG self-interest; highest priority was to be given to requests from colleges and universities that might supply graduate students to gravity research groups.

The program has been housed at my new academic institution, the Center of Gravitational Wave Astronomy (CGWA) at UT-Brownsville, with the heavy housework done by staff member Danka Mogilska. When a request is received Danka tries to locate a speaker appropriate for the request. What is most appropriate is a speaker living a short driving distance from the site of the request, since the program has had no travel funds. Requests have come almost exclusively through a website http://www.phys.utb.edu/WYPspeakers/REQUESTS/howto.html The APS central organization would not offer any direct assistance. Then and now, they did not consider the Speakers Program to be ``APS wide." The APS and the AAPT did help by linking the Speakers Program to their websites. The funding (support for Danka Mogilska) for the program to this point has come from the CGWA.

The program seems to have been a success. We have met about half of about 200 requests for the first half of 2005. A second part of the program was not a success. There was to have been a speakers database, a compilation of talks, images, links, etc. used by speakers, that would ease the preparation of a new presentation. Despite some prodding of speakers there have been almost no contributions to this database, and it will be abandoned.

Several months into the program we were joined by the Forum on the History of Physics (FHP), represented by Virginia Trimble. Virginia also served as a link to the Division of Astrophysics. Speakers from the Forum were particularly useful when groups specifically requested talks about historical and philosophical aspects of Einstein's science. Furthermore, FHP/DAP had travel money for especially interesting outreach opportunities. For the past several months the program has run as a loose collaboration of our original program and Virginia's efforts.

The response to the program does indicate that there is a market for the original program. Our 200 requests for the first half of 2005 may not be a good measure of what the program is going to be. A message from the APS recently went out to physics department chairs and we have been swamped as a result: 50 requests in the last week. The requests also show that there is a market out there for talks to high schools, nonacademic organizations, etc., a market we did not focus on. So the 2005 program has taught us some us some interesting lessons, but 2005 is coming to and end.

At their most recent meeting, the TGG Executive Committee approved, in principle, the continuation of the program. The CGWA can no longer support the program, so a source of funding is needed. For the last few months Virginia Trimble and I have been looking into long term possibilities for the program, into short term holding patterns, and have been looking for funding.

The good news is that a funds have been found, at least for the short term, and the program will continue to be housed at the CGWA while longer-term possibilities are explored.

Thanks to Virginia Trimble's efforts the major source of the funding will be a private donor: Wayne Rosing. Rosing, who has been described in the media as "... a legendary figure in the computer industry and a keen astronomer...," is the first senior fellow in mathematical and physical sciences at the University of California, Davis. Following Rosing's request, the program will be called the Las Cumbres Speakers Program, and will include some support for speaker travel. Both TGG and FHP will also be contributing some funds to the program to help support travel. The nature of the program can be expected to shift towards serving a broader set of requests, and the mode of operation will shift away from reliance on a list, and will include more ad hoc improvisational searching for the right speaker to meet a request.

The long term future of the speakers program is still under discussion, a discussion that will greatly benefit from what will be a very interesting year for the program.


Jorge Pullin 2005-10-05