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African laser beam workshop organized, taught, and attended by SPIE Members 

10 April 2009

A March workshop, "Introduction to Laser Beams" for African postgraduates, young scientists and optical technicians -- organized by South Africa's CSIR National Laser Centre (NLC) -- attracted the participation of several members of SPIE.

Organizer Andrew Forbes, instructors Fred Dickey and Raul Hernandez, and many of the student participants from all over Africa represented the Society at a memorable week-long event. Forbes is Research Group Leader for Mathematical Optics at the NLC, as well as Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa), and a Senior Member of SPIE.

Twenty-nine delegates representing 17 different institutes across 10 countries attended the short course, held in a highlands retreat in Dullstroom, South Africa. Most of the delegates were students, and the setting contributed to an atmosphere of conviviality. The CSIR-NLC Student Chapter of SPIE was well represented.

"The remote location was selected intentionally," said Forbes. "We booked out the entire lodge so that all the delegates could freely lounge around and chat between lectures. We also built in a fly-fishing team-building exercise on the first day to help build relationships from the start. Our aim was not only for people to absorb the content of the course, but hopefully also to build lasting relationships with their peers from across the continent."

Dickey (USA) and Hernandez (Mexico) were joined by Andrei Smirnov (Belarus) to present lectures on laser beam shaping, non-diffracting and vortex beams, and spatial light modulators, respectively.

The course was supported financially by the African Laser Centre as part its mandate to support the training of African laser scientists. The course was warmly received by all who participated, with SPIE Fellow Dr Fred Dickey commenting, "this sort of course probably does not exist anywhere in the world, and should become an annual event open to a wider audience worldwide."

More information on the ALC and future course offerings is available at www.africanlasercentre.org