On October 6th and 7th, ELSI was treated to the appearance of many, many aliens from a variety of planets. There were aliens with long legs to cope with very wet planets, aliens with hard skin to withstand intense UV radiation from planets close to a star, and even aliens with six eyes because they need to look scary to their predators, among others. We were really glad to have the opportunity to host these aliens on their first (and hopefully not their only) visit to Earth. Unfortunately, these weren't real aliens, however (that would have been really exciting). Rather, these aliens were created during an event at ELSI during the Tokyo Tech Festival.
Some of the aliens that visited ELSI
Credit: Josh Koplin (Attendee)
The Tokyo Tech Festival (工大祭) is an annual two-day event hosted by Tokyo Institute of Technology, where the general public is invited into the campus and where the various campus departments, groups, and student clubs each set up booths, presentations, food stalls, and many more activities. For example, student associations from various countries set up ethnic food stalls, engineering clubs arranged demonstrations of their creations, and the big event was a panel to discuss virtual reality which included professors and also directors and actors of a famous movie.
The Tokyo Tech Festival (Credit: ELSI)
ELSI is a unique research institute that focuses on several scientific areas, including life outside the Earth. We wanted to show the public what 'ELSI' is about through the festival activity. As scientists, we are often funded by the government, therefore it's our duty to showcase how the taxpayers' money is spent towards the advancement of sciences. During the planning stage, many ideas were suggested: an international food exhibition (as we are a very international research organization), a planet-making demonstration, etc. However, we settled on short seminars in conjunction with a hands-on interactive Alien making station to highlight the important and relevant research topics related to the search for extraterrestrial life that many of us are very passionate about. A hands-on interactive station would also allow those who do not speak Japanese to nevertheless contribute to such an outreach event.
The seminars each featured ELSI researchers, and the topics introduced one aspect of ELSI research in an understandable way to those without science backgrounds as a way to introduce the breadth of the topics that ELSI researches. The topics included: origin of the Earth's atmosphere, climate change on Mars, exploring the edge of the solar system, origin of life on Earth, and also what the first cells on Earth were like. The attendees were truly interested in the topics, with plenty of audience interactions and participation and tons of questions asked by eager attendees. The audience members specifically appreciated the fact that each of the talks were compact and had a very targeted focus.
Dr. Kosuke Fujishima giving his lecture about the origin of life on Earth (Credit: ELSI)
The Alien making station, however, was the highlight of the event. Many ELSI researchers are working on extraterrestrial life detection, and one of the biggest questions in this research field is what life off of Earth will look like. What would an alien look like? This blank canvas really appeared to stimulate the imagination of the participants, as no one really knows what alien life would really look like if we ever find it. For example, perhaps an alien has very long legs because their planet has a very acidic and corrosive surface, or an alien has very large or many eyes because there is very little detectable light on that planet, or an alien has a very dark exterior in order to avoid being detected by predators.
Some participants at the alien making station. (Credit: ELSI)
The result was phenomenal--we had participation by a wide variety of ages: from elementary school students all the way up to senior citizens! It appeared that the participants truly enjoyed the ability to use their creativity while opening up the possibility to wonder about what life in outer space would look like, and whether there is indeed extraterrestrial life. Whatever the answer to these questions are, the participants all appeared to have a great time designing their own personal aliens!
Here are some of the aliens that were created:
We were also able to secure the integral help of a few students from The Space Club from the American School in Japan High School. These students are really enthusiastic about space-related topics, and we really hope that we were able to inspire them to further think about space.
"Seeing the joys on the little kid's faces as they built their own aliens made our day. It was truly an out-of this-world experience!" - Rito Tanaka (Grade 12)
"It was so cool meeting researchers from ELSI, and it was really inspiring!" - Michio Sun (Grade 10)
"It was really inspiring to see the sheer number of kids that we were able to foster interest for space." - Won Kim (Grade 10)
"It was so inspiring to meet the researchers at ELSI who were all so passionate and dedicated to encouraging the next generation of science explorers!" - Sakiko Miyazaki (Grade 11)
We hope that next year's event will continue to educate the younger generation and the public to think about whether we are the only sentient beings in the universe!