News Notes
Public outreach
Open house informs public, cheers scientists

Amid downsizing and a threatened budget cut, the mood has been dim at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, Calif. Since the early 1990s, its staff has dwindled from as many as 2,500 to 600 . But, from May 30 to June 1, the office flung open its doors to the public and let some light in, lifting the spirits of its scientists. The open house drew in more than 15,000 visitors from the local community, kids and adults alike — eager to see what USGS science is all about.

Photo courtesy of Mike Diggles, USGS. For more visit the Open House Web site.

“It seemed to be the thing that people needed here in Menlo Park at the time to motivate them to actually show people what we’ve got,” says Phil Stoeffer, who helped plan the Menlo Park open house. The downsizing at Menlo Park represents not a loss of jobs, but instead a shift of people to other USGS offices mainly because of high rents and a desire for geographical diversification. But, Stoeffer says, it’s still been a tough time. They planned the open house to coincide with the closing of a 50-plus-year-old research building. The 40,000-square-foot building opened its doors for the last time for the open house, filled with exhibits.

Some 200 exhibits sought to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of USGS research. For example, the Bay Area Science Room brought together researchers in geology, water, biology and mapping. Other exhibits aimed to reach the younger audience through hands-on activities, such as gold panning and a ride simulating an earthquake.

Bob Ridky, USGS education coordinator, says that the open houses, held annually on a rotating basis at one of the survey’s facilities, serve an important role in bringing together education and research. “I think one of the nice things about the effective integration of education and research is that there’s this wonderful infusion of knowledge acquisition with the spirit of inquiry,” he says. Such outreach activities should be an integral part of how scientists think about their roles and responsibilities, Ridky stresses, and are a major goal of the survey’s education program.

Lisa M. Pinsker


USGS Open House

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