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Stahls teach optical engineering to 2,400 Boy Scouts at National Jamboree

23 August 2010

SPIE Student Member Mark Stahl and SPIE Fellow Dr. H. Philip Stahl represented SPIE at the recent Boy Scouts of America (BSA) 2010 National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, introducing optical engineering to over 2,400 Scouts -- one out of every 15 Scouts attending the Jamboree.

SPIE was asked to cosponsor the Engineering merit badge instructional tent for the 2010 Jamboree Merit Badge Midway and the Stahls jumped at the invitation to help. Phil Stahl, with support from SPIE, had previously approached BSA about creating an Optical Sciences and Engineering merit badge and viewed this as a excellent opportunity to incorporate Optical Engineering content into the Engineering merit badge curriculum. And, he viewed it as another great Scouting experience that he could share with his son.

Working with the Engineering merit badge leadership team, Phil Stahl developed instructional materials satisfying specific requirements of the merit badge: e.g., what does an optical engineer do, how does an optical engineer work with other engineering disciplines, what are the educational requirements and professional opportunities for optical engineering; how does optical engineering convert energy from electro-magnetic energy into electrical or thermal energy (via solar electric, solar thermal, or laser fusion); and which optical engineering achievements have transformed society?

In its 50th anniversary year, the laser was a natural achievement to emphasize. The other achievement for which an instructional module was developed was the telescope, because 2009 was the International Year of Astronomy in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope. At the Jamboree, each class chose which achievement they wanted to discuss. About 60% of the classes chose the laser, 30% selected the telescope, and the rest chose the light bulb.

The Stahls took turns hosting the "Meet an Engineer" session. Phil Stahl talked with the Scouts about how NASA is using the engineering method to design, build and test the James Webb Space Telescope. Mark Stahl talked with the Scouts about his job as a junior engineer doing laboratory research with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, and how they can get funding from the Army to support their education. According to Phil, "Scouts really connected with what Mark had to say, partly because he is an excellent presenter -- and I'm not being a biased proud father -- and partly because the Scouts can identify with an early-career professional."

The BSA National Jamboree is held every four years and brings together 36,000 Scouts and 9,000 adult leaders (representing approximately 2 percent of the more than 2 million registered Scouts and Scouters) from all over the country for a 10-day encampment. The first Jamboree was held on the Washington, D.C., National Mall in 1937. Originally scheduled for 2009, the Jamboree was delayed a year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the world Scouting movement in America. For the past 30 years, the Jamboree has been held at Fort A.P. Hill. Starting in 2013, the Jamboree will be held at The Summit: Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia.

The Stahls said they hope the higher elevation of West Virginia will improve the weather. For the first five days of the Jamboree it was over 100F and very humid.

Mark Stahl teaches optics to a group of scouts at the Jamboree

Mark Stahl teaches optics to a group of scouts at the Jamboree. “Interacting with the scouts was the best part,” he said. Mark and Phil Stahl introduced optics to more than 2,400 scouts during the event as part of an Engineering Merit Badge.

Boy Scout Jamboree panorama

Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed 45,000 Boy Scouts at the Jamboree.