Our August 2019 Volunteer of the Month is Alvin M. Saperstein. The only thing more impressive than Al’s lifetime of science knowledge, is his never-ending desire to pass that knowledge on.
Thank you for honoring me for doing something which I do for the sheer pleasure of doing it. I started volunteering at the Detroit Science Center several years before I retired five years ago and have continued more regularly, since then, at the Michigan Science Center. My initial involvement with the Center, as part of a Wayne State university Physics Department group, was to try to ensure the accuracy and attractiveness of exhibit labels. Now my time at the Center is spent as an on-floor docent, interacting with the young and old visitors. During my 60 years of professional life as a theoretical physicist, I never wore a lab coat; now, I wear a white lab coat on my, usual, one day a week at the Center as the little visitors look up at me quizzically: “Are you a scientist?” I get great pleasure from such encounters.
During my long career, mostly spent at universities – with occasional leave years at research establishments in this country and abroad, I interacted mostly with undergraduate and graduate physics students and fellow faculty. I spent a great deal of effort on introductory physics and astronomy classes as well physics research. Occasionally, I also did science demonstrations in elementary schools and judged at science fairs. It was this close and continued interaction with young people that I did not wish to give up, even as retirement loomed. My service as a white-coated docent at the Michigan Science Center partially fulfills this desired interaction.
During the last part of my university career my research interests turned back to those aspects of science which initially attracted me to it – the reciprocal relation between science and society, the use of science to shape public policy and vice-versa. I did much research and public speaking on the subject, wrote books and articles, and spent 14 years as Editor of the American Physical Society’s quarterly newsletter “Physics and Society.” A major concern of “physics and society” advocates is the scientific knowledge of the general public. Science museums are an obviously important tool for dealing with that concern; this is another important factor in my devotion to service in the Michigan Science Center.