Science Outreach Society: Spreading Science to the Masses

In December 2010, a group of PSU science students, along with Physics Professor Ralf Widenhorn, sought to gain teaching experience and share their love of science with the community. They created the Science Outreach Society, an enthusiastic student volunteer group that provides fun science demonstrations and leads educational discussions at no cost to local schools.

The group began reaching out to local schools, and soon, their interactive science demonstrations were in high demand. Today, SOS contains over 60 students and faculty, 11 board members, and has served nearly 2,500 students at schools, daycares, Boys & Girls clubs, and science fairs in the Portland-metro area.  

Widenhorn, who founded the group after participating in a local OMSI Science Pub, presented another pub lecture, “The Physics of Ballet,” along with SOS board members Will Porter, Justin Dunlap, Lester Lampert, Elliot Mylott, and in collaboration with the The Oregon Ballet Theater, to a packed crowd at the Baghdad Theater last fall. With the success of the performance, the group has been invited to present the show to a national audience at the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) conference this summer at the Newmark Theater.

The program is having an impact on local schools, whose funding has been cut but who still face the challenge of meeting state-mandated science concepts:

“This program is so valuable and important. . . [it] brought free, relevant, hands-on science instruction and resources to the classroom. This, in my mind, is the best form of education: when all the pieces are tied together to offer students a complete package of learning.” – Jennifer, Vernon Elementary School parent and former teacher.

“I want to show students and the community that science goes beyond the volcano,” says Misti Byrd, SOS President and 2012 Biology graduate. Even after graduating, Byrd continues to volunteer her time with the group, helping to organize demonstrations like building a cannon from soup cans and experimenting making snow. Through SOS, Byrd has taught others as well as herself: “Physics was a challenging subject for me and this has been an opportunity for me to address that challenge.”

SOS, now officially recognized as a student club by the Student Activities and Leadership Program, has also helped many PSU students to improve their public speaking skills. They even have plans to collaborate with the PSU Theater department on creating science skits that they can perform in the classroom. 

For more information about the Science Outreach Society, visit: