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One evening sixteen years ago, two young Weizmann Institute scientists – Dr. Daniel Lellouch and the future president of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Daniel Zajfman – borrowed a telescope from what was then youth activities unit at the Institute and sent out an invitation to high schools in the area to come view that night’s lunar eclipse. When some students showed up, they needed a fast change of plan. “We attached a web camera to the eyepiece of the telescope and showed the eclipse on a big screen,” says Lellouch.
Lellouch actually has a couple of “day jobs”: at the Xenon1T experiment in Italy and the ATLAS experiment at CERN, in Geneva. The former aims to solve the riddle of dark matter, and the latter was one of two experiments seeking to prove the existence of the Higgs boson.
As a scientist I feel I have a responsibility to pass on that sense of awe
Lellouch’s every spare minute, however, is devoted to science education. The idea of inviting the public to view the night sky has since become a mainstay of Institute activity: Astronomy for All. Since the project was initiated, the light pollution from nearby Ness Ziona has grown to the point of interfering with nighttime observation on the Institute campus. Thus, in the winter, activities take place in nearby Britannia Park, and in the summer, participants go south to the Mitzpe Ramon area, where they get lectures from a geologist on the striated formations there, as well as clear viewing after dark.
In addition to directing Astronomy for All, Lellouch is active in the Beamline for Schools competition based at CERN, in which high school students vie to present proposals for small beamline physics experiments. Lellouch is a member of the judging committee, as well as being coordinator of the Israeli teams – four classes entered last year. He also leads Israeli student tours to CERN. “These students get to hear lectures from the leading physicists in the world,” he says, “and, when possible, we let them go deep underground to see the giant detectors.”
When he is in Israel, Lellouch volunteers to give talks on science in schools around the country. “I want to expose them to science,” he says, “but also to rid them of the stereotype of the scientist in a white lab coat, and show them that I am, first of all, a human being.” Although astronomy is not actually his field of research, Lellouch has come to understand that it can be a gateway for getting people interested in science. “The moons of Jupiter are beautiful, even if you do not know exactly how far away they are. As a scientist I feel I have a responsibility to pass on that sense of awe, to expose as many people as possible to what we scientists are doing.”