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Happy 25th birthday, IPPOG!

Created in 1997, the International Particle Physics Outreach Group today plays a key role in disseminating the goals and accomplishments of particle physics research to the public worldwide

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“The particle physics community has a moral obligation to inform the public on its activities. To do this well, experiences must be shared among countries in view of the need to optimise the use of resources.” With these words, former CERN Director-General Chris Llewellyn-Smith launched the European Particle Physics Outreach Group (EPOG) on 19 September 1997.

Little did he know at the time how much more we would accomplish. Today, the aptly renamed International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG) is a collaboration of particle physicists, communication experts and educators dedicated to disseminating the goals and accomplishments of our research to the public.

IPPOG audiences range from schoolchildren to college graduates and teachers, from the visiting public to heads of state, and we engage them in classrooms, laboratories, festivals and government offices across the planet. The activities we use to reach these diverse audiences include public lectures, visits, games, exhibits, books, online apps and pretty much anything else that can be used to demonstrate scientific methodology and instil appreciation for fundamental research.

The first meeting, chaired by Professor Frank Close of Oxford University, was attended by representatives of the CERN Member States, the LHC experiments, CERN and DESY. Their goal was to provide a forum for the sharing of effective material and best practices in particle physics education and outreach. Twice-annual meetings were set up at CERN and EPOG reported each year to the European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) and the high-energy physics branch of the European Physical Society.

In the following decades, the group’s global reach expanded significantly. Key to this was the development of the International Masterclasses in Particle Physics (IMC), a programme in which students are invited to local institutions and given the chance to be scientists for a day. Lab visits and short lectures by active researchers are followed by hands-on courses allowing the students to analyse real data from current experiments. The day concludes with videoconferences between groups of participants to share their experiences and their results.

Masterclasses are one of our most effective tools for engaging with society. – Pedro Abreu, IPPOG co-chair

Other worldwide programmes, such as International Cosmic Day, International Muon Week and Worldwide Data Day, coordinated with partners that include DESY in Germany, INFN in Italy and QuarkNet in the USA, reach a wide variety of students and are growing every year. The Global Cosmics portal on the IPPOG website provides access to projects distributing cosmic ray detectors and/or data into classrooms.

These international programmes now reach tens of thousands of students and teachers located in classrooms around the world. To ensure support for their growth, IPPOG became an official international collaboration, complete with a memorandum of understanding (MoU), in 2016. Today, the collaboration comprises 39 members (32 countries, 6 experiments and CERN) and two associate members (DESY and GSI). Each member, by signing the MoU, commits to supporting particle physics outreach at home and worldwide.

Education and public engagement are essential tools to our field, not only because they make us better scientists, but because they are necessary to gain the public’s trust, train the next generation of scientists and secure the support we will need for our field’s future.

– Contributed by IPPOG co-chairs Pedro Abreu (LIP, IST) and Steven Goldfarb (U. Melbourne)