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SPIE optics and photonics professionals help with math and science

New documentary explores failings of U.S. public education

24 September 2010

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Scientists and engineers active in SPIE have a deep commitment to helping students and teachers learn more about photonics, the science of light.students in an outreach program at Pennsylvania State Univ.

"Waiting for Superman," a documentary by Davis Guggenheim opening 24 September, is expected to provoke discussion about why this sort of support from the community and other changes in the U.S. educational system are crucial.

Volunteers supported by SPIE devote thousands of hours annually to providing hands-on science lessons. SPIE contributes $90,000 yearly to educational outreach projects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With scholarships, grants, and other support, the Society's contribution to education exceeded $2 million in 2009.

Guggenheim's film follows five students struggling to get a good education -- an opportunity most in the U.S. take for granted -- and the barriers they face due to problems in the system.

Among signs of trouble Guggenheim identifies are low rankings of U.S. students in science and mathematics. A recent survey ranked American students 21st in science literacy and 25th in math literacy among students from 30 developed countries.

Volunteer programs help address those needs:

With a recent grant from SPIE, Ryan Hannahoe, Montana State Univ., will teach an astronomy immersion class for teachers. Participants will remotely control a telescope in Australia, learn properties of light and optics, and process astronomical data.

"All children deserve access to quality, hands-on science experiences in their classrooms. Some of them may become world-changing scientists," Hannahoe said.

A "Green Lab" program supported by SPIE at the Pennsylvania State Univ. Electro-Optics Center gives high-school students lab experience in analyzing power consumption incandescent, compact fluorescent, and LED lighting sources.

"The lab inspires students to think about the environment and the economy," said Jim Einsporn of the Penn State project. "Students discover first-hand the amount of energy used in each source, and the long-term costs of each."

Sharing science around the globe

In addition to supporting programs such as these, this year -- the 50th anniversary of the invention of the first laser -- SPIE has promoted awareness of the importance of the laser through its Advancing the Laser tribute and partnered with other scientific societies as part of the LaserFest celebration.

SPIE will provide a hands-on infrared camera demonstration at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., next month to raise awareness of STEM education, and held an Optics Outreach Olympics at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, Calif., in August, where teams won recognition for their outreach projects.

Among other educational programs supported by SPIE are:

Photo caption (above): Students learn about the differences in energy output and costs of lighting sources in the Pennsylvania State Univ. "Green Lab" program.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world.


Media Contact:

Amy Nelson
Public Relations Manager
Tel: +1 360 685 5478

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