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Spark! Imagination and Science Center outreach program wins prize

Paul Cassak, professor of physics and astronomy at West Virginia University and science advisor for Spark! Imagination and Science Center, has won the 2024 Rutherford Plasma Physics Communication Prize.

The recognition is for the Hands-on School Science Kit outreach program originally developed by Julie Bryan, Executive Director of Spark! Imagination and Science Center. The winner of the prize receives 500 pounds sterling, which Cassak pledged  directly back to Spark. The Rutherford Prize is awarded by the Institute of Physics, a society for physics in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The Hands-on School Science Kit program was started in 2015 through
a grant to Spark from the National Informal Science Education (NISE) Network supporting school science kits for all elementary schools in McDowell County, WV. The kits contained materials and instructions for a variety of hands-on science lessons, including lessons in nanoscience.

"We are always searching for ways to make science more fun and accessible to students in West Virginia. The Hands-on School Science kits contain all the materials and instructions a classroom teacher needs to provide exciting and informative science lessons for their students," says Julie Bryan.

Spark has continued the Hands-on School Science Kit program with a number of schools when grant funding was available. Grants from the Neighborhood Investment Program (NIP) and the NISE Network have made it possible to continue to give out the kits.

Cassak and Bryan also jointly created kits focused on the science of space plasma physics, a cutting-edge research area underpinning the goal of understanding harmful space weather effects on Earth. Through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the reach of the space plasma kit program was expanded to another 99 elementary schools in rural West Virginia counties. When dropping off the kits, some schools receive a free outreach program.

Spark! Imagination and Science Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. To make a donation, please visit