Optics and photonics outreach programs share science, spark fascination with light

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More than 200 students in several primary schools in New Zealand’s rural Southland region enjoyed learning about light-based science and technology through lessons presented by students from the University of Otago in Dunedin, one of dozens of education outreach programs funded this year by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. The Otago students demonstrated several optical principles and phenomena, and shared information about the upcoming International Year of Light 2015.

Optoelectronics students of the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology School of Electrical and Computer Engineering work with a Photonics Minilab purchased with their SPIE Education Outreach Grant.

Optoelectronics students of the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology School of Electrical and Computer Engineering work with a Photonics Minilab purchased with their SPIE Education Outreach Grant.

A a result of the workshop, students have become more excited about optics and photonics, better able to appreciate the practical side of theoretical knowledge they receive in the classroom.

The science of light and how it is used in our lives was shared with more than 200 primary students in a traveling program organized by undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Otago Physics Department and funded by an SPIE Education Outreach Grant. The Otago students, members of the university’s OSA/SPIE Student Chapter visited six primary schools in Southland New Zealand in early September, giving children from small, rural schools hands-on lessons in optics and photonics.

Through the grant program,SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, last year awarded $90,000 to 35 organizations from more than 10 different countries. SPIE awards grants in two rounds each year. The deadline for the first round in 2015 is 31 January. Applications are judged on their potential to impact students and increase optics awareness.

During a two-day interactive program, Otago students gave classroom demonstrations of simulations on polarized lightwaves. They used solar telescopes, Slinky® toys, lenses, and mirrors to spark discussions about science research, careers, and the impacts of technology our daily lives.

“The program was a hit with both the pupils and the teachers,” the Otago students wrote in their report. “At every school the pupils were very enthusiastic about learning the concepts and getting involved with the demonstrations, and asked lots of insightful and interested questions.”

This was the Otago chapter’s second annual outreach trip to Southland schools, and reached approximately 220 pupils aged 8 to 12 and 10 teachers. The children received a packet including posters about the International Year of Light and how they can participate in raising awareness of the importance of light and light-based technologies.

In another project funded by a 2014 grant, the SPIE City College of New York (CCNY) City Lights Student Chapter and City University of New York Center for Advanced Technology in Photonics (CUNY CAT) are partnering with the Young Women’s Leadership Network of all-girl public schools in New York City (USA).

Through a program called Project Light Switch, CCNY will reach 150 young women between December 2014 and August 2015. Students will be hosted on lab field trips, and provided with hands-on laser demonstrations and LED lights.

Other recent grant recipients are the SPIE Gdańsk (Poland) University of Technology Student Chapter and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Addis Ababa (Ehtiopia) Institute of Technology (AAIT). Both used their grants to purchase optical kits, perform hands-on demonstrations, and create optoelectronics workshops.

Gdańsk students presented workshops to about 200 high school students, and provided awards for the top workshops. The program included a field trip to the scientific laboratories at Gdańsk’s Department of Metrology and Optoelectronics.

As a result of the AAIT workshop, students have become more excited about optics and photonics, organizers said. Through assembling the Photonics Minilab kit, students were able to appreciate the practical side of the theoretical knowledge in optics and optoelectronics they receive in the classroom.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.

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