In 2015, the first observation of gravitational waves marked a breakthrough in astrophysics and in technological research and development. The discovery of a gravitational-wave signal from the collision of two black holes, a billion light-years away, received considerable interest from the media and public. We describe the development of a purpose-built exhibit explaining this new area of research to a general audience. The core element of the exhibit is a working Michelson interferometer: a scaled-down version of the key technology used in gravitational-wave detectors. The Michelson interferometer is integrated into a hands-on exhibit, which allows for user interaction and simulated gravitational-wave observations. An interactive display provides a self-guided explanation of gravitational-wave related topics through video, animation, images, and text. We detail the hardware and software used to create the exhibit, and discuss two installation variants: An independent learning experience in a museum setting (the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum) and a science-festival with the presence of expert guides (the 2017 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition). We assess audience reception in these two settings, describe the improvements we have made given this information, and discuss future public-engagement projects resulting from this work. The exhibit is found to be effective in communicating the new and unfamiliar field of gravitational-wave research to general audiences. An accompanying website provides parts lists and information for others to build their own version of this exhibit.

1.
Albert
Einstein
, “
Approximative integration of the field equations of gravitation
,”
Sitzungsber. Preuss. Akad. Wiss. Berlin (Math. Phys.)
1916
,
688
696
(
1916
).
2.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
Observation of gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
116
(
6
),
061102
(
2016
).
3.
B. P.
Abbott
 et al, “
Properties of the binary black hole merger GW150914
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
116
(
24
),
241102
(
2016
).
4.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
GWTC-1: A gravitational-wave transient catalog of compact binary mergers observed by LIGO and Virgo during the first and second observing runs
,”
Phys. Rev. X
9
(
3
),
031040
(
2019
).
5.
J.
Aasi
,
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
 et al, “
Advanced LIGO
,”
Classical Quantum Gravity
32
(
7
),
074001
(
2015
).
6.
F.
Acernese
 et al, “
Advanced Virgo: A second-generation interferometric gravitational wave detector
,”
Classical Quantum Gravity
32
(
2
),
024001
(
2015
).
7.
Yoichi
Aso
,
Yuta
Michimura
,
Kentaro
Somiya
 et al, “
Interferometer design of the KAGRA gravitational wave detector
,”
Phys. Rev. D
88
(
4
),
043007
(
2013
).
8.
Bala
Iyer
,
Tarun
Souradeep
,
C. S.
Unnikrishnan
 et al, “
LIGO-India
,”
Technical report <M1100296-v2 dcc.ligo.org/LIGO-M1100296/public
> (
2011
).
9.
B. P.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW150914: First results from the search for binary black hole coalescence with Advanced LIGO
,”
Phys. Rev. D
93
(
12
),
122003
(
2016
).
10.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW151226: Observation of gravitational waves from a 22-solar-mass binary black hole coalescence
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
116
(
24
),
241103
(
2016
).
11.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW170104: Observation of a 50-solar-mass binary black hole coalescence at redshift 0.2
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
118
(
22
),
221101
(
2017
).
12.
B. P.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW170608: Observation of a 19-solar-mass binary black hole coalescence
,”
Astrophys. J.
851
(
2
),
L35
(
2017
).
13.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW170814: A three-detector observation of gravitational waves from a binary black hole coalescence
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
119
(
14
),
141101
(
2017
).
14.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW170817: Observation of gravitational waves from a binary neutron star inspiral
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
119
(
16
),
161101
(
2017
).
15.
B. P.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW190425: Observation of a compact binary coalescence with total mass
3.4 M ,”
Astrophys. J. Lett.
892
(
1
),
L3
(
2020
).
16.
R.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW190412: Observation of a binary-black-hole coalescence with asymmetric masses
,”
Phys. Rev. D
102
(
4
),
43015
(
2020
).
17.
R.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW190521: A binary black hole merger with a total mass of 150 M GW190521
,”
Phys. Rev. Lett.
125
(
10
),
101102
(
2020
).
18.
R.
Abbott
 et al, “
GW190814: Gravitational waves from the coalescence of a 23 solar mass black hole with a 2.6 solar mass compact object
,”
Astrophys. J. Lett.
896
(
2
),
L44
(
2020
).
19.
LIGO Scientific Collaboration educational resources
,” <
www.ligo.org/public.php>.
20.
“Virgo Collaboration educational resources,” <public.virgo-gw.eu/educational-resources/>.
21.
“Laser Labs games and apps,” <www.laserlabs.org>.
22.
L.
Carbone
,
C.
Bond
,
D.
Brown
 et al, “
Computer-games for gravitational wave science outreach: Black hole pong and space time quest
,”
J. Phys.: Conf. Ser.
363
,
012057
(
2012
).
23.
“Institiute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy outreach,” <www.sr.bham.ac.uk/gwgroup/outreach.php>.
24.
Larry E.
Suter
, “
Visiting science museums during middle and high school: A longitudinal analysis of student performance in science
,”
Sci. Educ.
98
(
5
),
815
839
(
2014
).
25.
Neta
Shaby
,
Orit Ben-Zvi
Assaraf
, and
Tali
Tal
, “
I know how it works!' student engagement with exhibits in a science museum
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ., Part B
9
(
3
),
233
252
(
2019
).
26.
Katherine P.
Dabney
,
Robert H.
Tai
,
John T.
Almarode
 et al, “
Out-of-school time science activities and their association with career interest in stem
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ., Part B
2
(
1
),
63
79
(
2012
).
27.
Paichi P.
Shein
,
John H.
Falk
, and
Yuh-Yuh
Li
, “
The role of science identity in science center visits and effects
,”
Sci. Educ.
103
(
6
),
1478
1492
(
2019
).
28.
Anthony
Lelliott
, “
Understanding gravity: The role of a school visit to a science centre
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ., Part B
4
(
4
),
305
322
(
2014
).
29.
J.
Falk
and
L.
Dierking
,
Learing from Museums
(
Rowman & Littlefield
,
Lanham, MD
,
2000
).
30.
John H.
Falk
and
Mark D.
Needham
, “
Measuring the impact of a science center on its community
,”
J. Res. Sci. Teaching
48
(
1
),
1
12
(
2011
).
31.
John H.
Falk
and
Lynn D.
Dierking
, “
School field trips: Assessing their long-term impact
,”
Curator: Museum J.
40
(
3
),
211
218
(
1997
).
32.
Marco
Cavaglia
,
Martin
Hendry
,
Szabolcs
Márka
,
David H.
Reitze
, and
Keith
Riles
, “
Astronomy's new messengers: A traveling exhibit on gravitational-wave physics
,”
J. Phys.: Conf. Ser.
203
,
012115
(
2009
).
33.
Sam
Cooper
,
Anna
Green
, and
Hannah
Middelton
. “
Michelson exhibit website
,” <www.sr.bham.ac.uk/exhibit/>.
34.
Sam
Cooper
,
Anna
Green
,
Hannah
Middleton
, and
Christopher
Berry
, “scooper93/gwexhibit: Initial release of gravitational wave exhibit, October
2020
,” <https://zenodo.org/record/4066744>.
35.
Bond
Charlotte
,
Brown
Daniel
,
Freise
Andreas
, and
Strain
Kenneth
, “
Interferometer techniques for gravitational-wave detection
,”
Living Rev. Rel.
19
,
1
81
(
2016
).
36.
Thor Labs,
“Michelson interferometer educational kit.”
37.
Particle Toys Nikhef, “
Nikhef interferometer
.”
38.
Dennis
Ugolini
,
Hanna
Rafferty
,
Max
Winter
,
Carsten
Rockstuhl
, and
Antje
Bergmann
, “
Ligo analogy lab-a set of undergraduate lab experiments to demonstrate some principles of gravitational wave detection
,”
Am. J. Phys.
87
(
1
),
44
56
(
2019
).
39.
P. J.
Fox
,
R. E.
Scholten
,
M. R.
Walkiewicz
, and
R. E.
Drullinger
, “
A reliable, compact, and low-cost Michelson wavemeter for laser wavelength measurement
,”
Am. J. Phys.
67
(
7
),
624
630
(
1999
).
40.
Bob
Peart
, “
Impact of exhibit type on knowledge gain, attitudes, and behavior
,”
Curator: Museum J.
27
(
3
),
220
237
(
1984
).
41.
Dorothy Lozowski
Boisvert
and
Brenda Jochums
Slez
, “
The relationship between exhibit characteristics and learning-associated behaviors in a science museum discovery space
,”
Sci. Educ.
79
(
5
),
503
518
(
1995
).
42.
John H.
Falk
and
Leslie M.
Adelman
, “
Investigating the impact of prior knowledge and interest on aquarium visitor learning
,”
J. Res. Sci. Teaching
40
(
2
),
163
176
(
2003
).
43.
Falk
John
, “
The director's cut: Toward an improved understanding of learning from museums
,”
Sci. Educ.
88
(
S1
),
S83
S96
(
2004
).
44.
John H.
Falk
,
Carol
Scott
,
Lynn
Dierking
,
Leonie
Rennie
, and
Mika Cohen
Jones
, “
Interactives and visitor learning
,”
Curator: Museum J.
47
(
2
),
171
198
(
2004
).
45.
Jennifer A.
Fredricks
,
Tara
Hofkens
,
Ming-Te
Wang
,
Elizabeth
Mortenson
, and
Paul
Scott
, “
Supporting girls' and boys' engagement in math and science learning: A mixed methods study
,”
J. Res. Sci. Teaching
55
(
2
),
271
298
(
2018
).
46.
John J.
Koran
, Jr.
,
Mary Lou
Koran
, and
Sarah J.
Longino
, “
The relationship of age, sex, attention, and holding power with two types of science exhibits
,”
Curator: Museum J.
29
(
3
),
227
235
(
1986
).
47.
Toni
Dancstep (Née Dancu)
and
Lisa
Sindorf
, “
Exhibit designs for girls' engagement (edge)
,”
Curator: Museum J.
61
(
3
),
485
506
(
2018
).
48.
Cody
Sandifer
, “
Technological novelty and open-endedness: Two characteristics of interactive exhibits that contribute to the holding of visitor attention in a science museum
,”
J. Res. Sci. Teaching
40
(
2
),
121
137
(
2003
).
49.
J.
Falk
and
L.
Dierking
,
The Museum Experience Revisited
(
Routledge
,
New York
,
2013
).
50.
Robin
Meisner
,
Dirk
vom Lehn
,
Christian
Heath
 et al, “
Exhibiting performance: Co-participation in science centres and museums
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ.
29
(
12
),
1531
1555
(
2007
).
51.
Constanze
Hampp
and
Stephan
Schwan
, “
The role of authentic objects in museums of the history of science and technology: Findings from a visitor study
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ., Part B
5
(
2
),
161
181
(
2015
).
52.
D.
Ingram
and
LIGO Scientific Collaboration,
Build your own michelson interferometer
,” LIGO Public Document No. T1400762 <dcc.ligo.org/LIGO-T1400762/public> (
2014
).
53.
E.
Douglas
and
LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
The magnetic michelson interferometer
,” LIGO Public Document No. T0900393 <dcc.ligo.org/LIGO-T0900393/public> (
2009
).
54.
Blender Online Community,
Blender—A 3D modelling and rendering package
,” Blender Foundation, Stichting Blender Foundation,
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
(
2019
).
55.
Luisa
Massarani
,
Lara Mucci
Poenaru
,
Jessica Norberto
Rocha
,
Shawn
Rowe
, and
Sigrid
Falla
, “
Adolescents learning with exhibits and explainers: The case of maloka
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ., Part B
9
(
3
),
253
267
(
2019
).
56.
Sue
Allen
and
Joshua
Gutwill
, “
Designing with multiple interactives: Five common pitfalls
,”
Curator: Museum J.
47
(
2
),
199
212
(
2004
).
57.
Bruce
Wyman
,
Scott
Smith
,
Daniel
Meyers
, and
Michael
Godfrey
, “
Digital storytelling in museums: Observations and best practices
,”
Curator: Museum J.
54
(
4
),
461
468
(
2011
).
58.
Minda
Borun
and
Jennifer
Dritsas
, “
Developing family-friendly exhibits
,”
Curator: Museum J.
40
(
3
),
178
196
(
1997
).
59.
Toni
Dancstep (Née Dancu)
and
Lisa
Sindorf
, “
Creating a female-responsive design framework for stem exhibits
,”
Curator: Museum J.
61
(
3
),
469
484
(
2018
).
60.
Raspberry Pi Foundation, “Raspberry Pi 2020,
” <www.raspberrypi.org> (
2020
).
61.
Arduino
, “
Arduino 2020
,” <www.arduino.cc> (
2020
).
62.
Keith
Riles
, “
Recent searches for continuous gravitational waves
,”
Mod. Phys. Lett. A
32
(
39
),
1730035
(
2017
).
63.
B. P.
Abbott
,
R.
Abbott
,
T. D.
Abbott
 et al, “
First targeted search for gravitational-wave bursts from core-collapse supernovae in data of first-generation laser interferometer detectors
,”
Phys. Rev. D
94
(
10
),
102001
(
2016
).
64.
“reveal.js—The HTML Presentation Framework,” <revealjs.com>.
65.
“Socket IO,” <socket.io>.
66.
“Johnny-Five: The JavaScript Robotics & IoT Platform,” <johnny-five.io>.
67.
John H.
Falk
,
John J.
Koran
, and
Lynn D.
Dierking
, “
The things of science: Assessing the learning potential of science museums
,”
Sci. Educ.
70
(
5
),
503
508
(
1986
).
68.
“Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum,” <www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/thinktank> (
2018
).
69.
Lauren
Deere
, Private communication, October 2018.
70.
Anna
Green
, “
Gravitational waves in the Birmingham science museum
,”
LIGO Mag.
9
,
20
21
(
2016
).
71.
University of Birmingham
, “
Birmingham's role in gravitational wave detection celebrated in thinktank exhibit
,” <www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/07/Birmingham%27s-role-in-gravitational-wave-detection-celebrated-in-Thinktank-exhibit.aspx> (
2016
).
72.
Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum, “Exhibition design and construction guidelines,” Internal Document for Exhibitors
(
2011
).
73.
National Museums of Scotland,
Exhibitions for All: A Practical Guide to Designing Inclusive Exhibitions
(
NMS Publishing Ltd
.,
Edinburgh
,
2002
) <www.rnib.org.uk/sites/default/files/Exhibitions_for_all_NMScotland.pdf>.
74.
“Color Oracle,” <colororacle.org> (
2018
).
75.
British Dyslexia Association
, “
Dyslexia style guide 2018: Creating dyslexia
,” Friendly Content <www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/employer/dyslexia-style-guide-2018-creating-dyslexia-friendly-content> (
2018
).
76.
British Dyslexia Association
, “
Typefaces for dyslexia
,” <bdatech.org/what-technology/typefaces-for-dyslexia/> (
2018
).
77.
Louis S.
Nadelson
, “
Who is watching and who is playing: Parental engagement with children at a hands-on science center
,”
J. Educ. Res.
106
(
6
),
478
484
(
2013
).
78.
LIGO Collaboration
, “
LIGO multimedia resources
,” <www.ligo.caltech.edu/gallery>.
79.
Jill
Hohenstein
and
Lynn Uyen
Tran
, “
Use of questions in exhibit labels to generate explanatory conversation among science museum visitors
,”
Int. J. Sci. Educ.
29
(
12
),
1557
1580
(
2007
).
80.
81.
LIGO Scienitifc Collaboration universities and institutions at RSSE: University of Birmingham, Imperial College London, University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, University of the West of Scotland, University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, AEI Hannover, AEI Potsdam–Golm, Milde Marketing.
83.
“Listen to the Universe” dedicated website <www.listen2theuniverse.org>.
84.
GWOptics, “
Games for science outreach and public engagement
,”
<www.gwoptics.org/play>.
86.
Royal Society
, “
Guidelines for school groups
,” <royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2017/summer-science-exhibition/schools-colleges/> (
2017
).
87.
Chromatouch
2018
, <www.chromatouch.net>.
88.
Gravity Synth.
2019, <gravitysynth.tumblr.com/> (
2019
).
89.
Events where Gravity Synth has featured include: BBC's Digital Planet 18th birthday sho
w (2019) (Ref. 93), Cheltenham Science Festival (2019), Lunar Festival (2018), Future Everything (2018), The Superposition (2017), Pint of Science (2017), and the Interact Engagement Symposium (2017).
90.
Ideum
, “
Open exhibits
,” <openexhibits.org>.
91.
Intuiface
, “
Intuiface: Multi touch interfaces
,” <www.intuiface.com>.
92.
Benjamin P.
Abbott
 et al, “
The basic physics of the binary black hole merger GW150914
,”
Ann. Phys.
529
(
1-2
),
1600209
(
2017
).
93.
“Digital Planet's 18th birthday show,” <www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cszbwy> (
2019
).
AAPT members receive access to the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher as a member benefit. To learn more about this member benefit and becoming an AAPT member, visit the Joining AAPT page.