22,000 Interested Citizens Can’t be Wrong

I’d like to introduce you to John Collier, a software engineer and our newest contributor to Science Cheerleader. John is heading up our soon-to-be-unveiled Science Tourist initiative where you can contribute to and learn about fascinating science-related experiences around the world. While we build out this extension, John will post occasional features and solicit tips from SciCheer subscribers. Here’s his first contribution. Take it away, John!

Argonne National Laboratories, (part of the federally funded U.S. Department of Energy)near Lemont, Illinois, is tucked away within a wooded park, so to many Chicago area residents the goings on inside the lab are a little mysterious.  However, every few years the lab throws wide it’s doors and has an open house that is free to the public.  I’m a sucker for events associated with the words “science” and “free”, so I piled my family into the mini-van and we spent a fun afternoon touring Argonne.

The first thing we noticed was the crowd; in some places it was difficult to drive at more than a snail’s pace through the vast sea of humanity.  Fittingly, our first stop was at the “Transportation Research and Analysis Computing Center” where a researcher breathlessly explained how they are doing traffic modeling via agents that simulate individual vehicles and their behaviors.  A few minutes later my wife and daughter had to go to the women’s bathroom which had, to no surprise, a long waiting line.   My wife tromped back to the researcher and vociferly expounded on the need for a traffic study of women’s vs. men’s bathrooms.

The next stop was at the “Advanced Photon Source” (APS), which creates “…the brightest x-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere”.  These beams are used to zap different materials and biological samples in order to probe their innards.  The tour of the APS was very cool, however I think my kids found the free light-up yo-yos to be the most exciting part.

We saw many other neat things at Argonne, but for me the highlight of the open house was meeting a movie star.  The “star” was the Gammasphere, which film director Ang Lee used as a model for the device that turns mild mannered Bruce Banner into the raging green Hulk.

According to Angela Hardin of Argonne, the open house drew 22,000 visitors.  At the end of the day, as I watched the river of vehicles inch their way out of the lab (not unlike a crowd leaving a rock concert, only with more mini-vans), I thought to myself “Who says that the average citizen isn’t interested in science?”