Attitudes Towards Outreach within the Particle-Physics Research Community

Attitudes Towards Outreach within the Particle-Physics Research Community

Author: Achintya Rao, University of the West of England, Bristol / CERN, Switzerland

This paper will present early results from research into the attitudes of the particle-physics community towards science communication (specifically, towards “public engagement” or “outreach”). The project explores this community’s motivations for, and barriers to, participating in science-communication activities, and how the attitudes, motivations and barriers vary across age, nationality, gender and academic position.

Much research into the attitudes of scientists towards public engagement has involved fields of research with either a direct or an immediate impact to human life and society (e.g. climate change, genetically modified organisms, nuclear power), but the literature is lacking when it comes to fields that are less accessible or “every-day” to a lay public, such as particle physics.

To represent the population of particle-physics researchers, the sample chosen is the CMS Collaboration, which discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider located at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics. Named after the Compact Muon Solenoid particle detector, the collaboration counts among its members over 4000 scientists and engineers from nearly 200 institutes representing more than 40 countries. The international but close-knit nature of the collaboration makes CMS a unique source of rich, novel data into cross-national and cross-cultural attitudes towards science communication.

The paper will focus on analysis of quantitative data, which were collected via an in-depth online survey distributed to the entire CMS Collaboration in early 2015. Over the four-month data-collection period, 374 members of the collaboration responded to the survey. Analysis of these data will address the conference theme “Evaluating public communication of science and technology”.

The project is part of the author’s research towards a PhD in Science Communication.