Absolute Zero premiered in January 2008 on the award-winning PBS science series
NOVA. Based largely on Tom Shachtman’s acclaimed book, Absolute Zero and the
Conquest of Cold, the two television specials demonstrate how civilization has been
profoundly affected by the mastery of cold.
Underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation,
Absolute Zero is a unique blend of science, cultural history and adventure story. The
PBS specials feature the struggles of philosophers, scientists and engineers over four centuries as they attempted to understand the nature of cold, to explore its deepest
reaches, to create the “cold technologies” that have transformed society and to seek a
deeper understanding of matter itself. Absolute Zero became one of the highest rated NOVA specials over
the last decade.
Devillier Communications, Inc., (Devillier) was responsible for creating
and executing a successful national outreach campaign on behalf of
Absolute Zero. The campaign, which took place over a two-year
period, had four major objectives:
- Introduce some of the most important scientific
breakthroughs and human achievements in this
relatively unknown field of low-temperature physics.
- Engage the American audience in a story that touches
their lives in innumerable ways while generating the
greatest possible audience for Absolute Zero.
- Serve as a catalyst for community-based collaboration
and partnerships with science museums, libraries,
schools, PBS stations and related organizations.
- Actively engage science professionals, researchers and
technicians in public outreach and education
In order to accomplish these goals, Devillier working in collaboration with
the University of Oregon, Twin Cities Public Television, Windfall Films
and Meridian Productions, undertook the following strategies.
A key element of the national campaign was the creation of a National Partnership Program that drew upon the
leadership of national scientific, educational, governmental, and professional organizations that support science
education and have a particular expertise in low-temperature physics. The strategic alliance served as an
essential building block for the national outreach effort.
On behalf of Absolute Zero, Devillier enlisted the support of twenty-one prestigious organizations as National Partners or National Participants. They included professional physics associations, such as the American Institute of Physics, the Acoustical Society of America, the American Physical Society, the Cryogenic Society and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists; major scientific institutions, such as the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Center for Ultra Cold Atoms (MIT); educational groups including The American Association of Physics Teachers, The National Science Teachers Association, the Society of Physics Students, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the National Alliance of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions; informal educational organizations, such as the Association of Science-Technology Centers and TryScience.org and USA TODAY Education and major Federal agencies including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy.
National Partners and Participants:
- Served on the National Awareness Advisory Committee, which
provided ongoing guidance on behalf of the campaign.
- Suggested content for the Absolute Zero educational outreach
materials and invited Absolute Zero team members to make
presentations at their annual meetings and conferences.
- Participated as campaign spokespersons and promoted Absolute
Zero in their internal publications (newsletters and magazines) and on their respective Web sites.
- Encouraged their members to participate in outreach activities in collaboration with PBS stations and
other community groups.
- Recommended well-respected low-temperature experts and educators to serve as Absolute Zero
- Were featured on the Absolute Zero Website and profiled in the quarterly Absolute Zero Newsletter.
Throughout the campaign, Partners and Participants conducted a variety of outreach initiatives aimed at educators
and students across the country. For example, The Center at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory based
at Florida State University, provided an Absolute Zero Expert and featured the program at its bi-annual Open
House that was attended by thousands of students, parents and teachers.
Absolute Zero WEBINAR
The National Science Teachers Association in association with the
National Institute of
featured an informative
and inspiring presentation by their Nobel Laureate William
Phillips. The interactive
Webcast, which was
promoted to over
teachers, continues to
be featured on NSTA’s Web site: www.nsta.org.
NIST also sponsored an Absolute Zero presentation by Nobel Laureate William Phillips at the Parkland Magnet
Middle School for Aerospace Technology in Rockville, Maryland in early 2007. The “Science of Cold”, was seen
by the entire student body, their teachers, local officials including Jerry Weast, Superintendent of Montgomery
County Public Schools, U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen and NIST Acting Director James Turner. NIST
continues to encourage teachers to order free DVDs of the presentations viatheir organizational Web site
Absolute Zero team members were invited to make presentations at a number of national meetings hosted by
National Partners and Participant such as the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American
Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the Cryogenic Society of America
as well as related meetings conducted by AAAS and the Applied Superconductivity Conference.
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE
The companion website, www.absolutezerocampaign.org served as the nerve
center for the outreach campaign. It was a place where students, teachers, parents
and others could learn more about this unique field of scientific endeavor.
Teachers and informal educators were able to download carefully designed teaching
modules, a low-temperature timeline, biographies of important historical figures,
related graphics and even student games. The Web site featured Absolute Zero
Experts and was linked to the Web sites of the National Partners and to NOVA. Visit the Campaign Website
Absolute Zero EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS
In collaboration with the National Partners, Devillier produced two unique educational guides that served as the cornerstone
of the outreach campaign. The Absolute Zero guides were created for use in classrooms, in science centers,
museums and libraries, by PBS stations and other community organizations. The guides, which were downloadable
on the Web site, were aligned with the National Science Education Standards and included an extensive list of
The Absolute Zero Community Education Outreach Guide is a resource for teachers and informal educators of middle
school students. Drawing from the history of the human quest to explore the cold, this guide focuses on topics – from
historical attempts to understand the physics of heat to modern day magnetically levitating trains – that are covered in
the programs. The Educational Outreach Guide provides suggestions on how to engage young people in supplemental
school activities, including fascinating hands-on demonstrations.
Also written in collaboration with low-temperature physicists and classroom teachers, the Absolute Zero Science
Educator’s Guide offers additional suggestions on how best to engage students in science and low-temperature physics
while underscoring the importance of the process of scientific inquiry.
Absolute Zero Guides are available on the ComPADRE Pathway, a part of the
National Science Digital Library. (www.comPADRE.org.)
Another integral part of the national outreach campaign was an
informal Speakers Bureau comprised of experts in the field of low-temperature
physics. Recommended by National Partners and
Participants, the Absolute Zero Experts helped to spread the word
in formal and informal settings, agreed to serve as mentors and to
enlist the support of their colleagues in this important endeavor.
They also incorporated Absolute Zero materials in their regular
educational presentations. They included:
- Dr. Dennis Clougherty, professor of physics at the University of
Vermont, is a theoretical condensed matter physicist. Dr. Clougherty
works in the field of superconductivity and the quantum sticking and
evaporation of ultracold atoms and molecules.
- Dr. David G. Haase, professor of physics and Director of the Science
House, which is based at North Carolina State University. The
Science House is a national model of university collaboration with
K-12 schools. Its extensive outreach program regularly connects with
more than 5,000 teachers and 20,000 students across the state.
Absolute Zero materials were disseminated throughout North
- Dr. Eric Palm, Millikelvin Facility Chief at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, has been conducting experiments
in low-temperature for two decades. He incorporated Absolute Zero materials in all of his classroom demonstrations
ranging from elementary through high school settings throughout northern Florida.
- Dr. John Pfotenhauer, professor, department of engineering physics, University of Wisconsin is a member of ASME,
ASEE, APS and the Cryogenic Society of America. He disseminated Absolute Zero materials to high school teachers
throughout Madison and incorporated Absolute Zero in his low-temperature demonstrations at the University.
- Dr. Roberto Ramos, assistant professor of physics at Drexel University, serves as faculty advisor to physics students.
He featured Absolute Zero at a Drexel University Open House for 500 high school students and incorporated
Absolute Zero materials in his classes.
- Dr. Dwight Whitaker, assistant professor of physics, Williams College, incorporated Absolute Zero in his middle
school and high schools presentation in Williamstown, Mass.
Superconductivity in Southern Mississippi
Dr. Alina Gearba, Assistant Professor of physics at University of Southern Mississippi and Absolute Zero Expert, led demonstrations on the science of cold at approximately 20 high schools in Southern Mississippi, including high schools that do not have physics classes. Dr. Gearba had college students from her laboratory join her during these demonstrations, often visiting the high schools from which they graduated.
She primarily chose demonstrations from the Absolute Zero Community Education Guide, including those involving liquid nitrogen and those related to superconductivity.
Dr. Gearba was invited for repeat visits. She noted that her student audiences were always larger the second time. Principals began to notice that “physics isn’t boring; it’s neat.” One high school teacher noted
that students “were enthusiastic about the frozen demonstrations; they talked about Absolute Zero for weeks after the demo.” Dr. Gearba estimates that she reached over 1,000 students in Southern Mississippi during the campaign.
---Goodman Research Group, Inc. 2008