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SPIE Professional April 2011

SPIE Education and Outreach Grants

By Kathy Sheehan

High schoolers learn and teach diffraction, refraction

High-school science teacher Deborah Carder has stretched her optics lessons across the entire Fruitvale, TX (USA), school district with the aid of an SPIE education outreach grant.

The equipment the 2010 grant paid for "is constantly in use in all of my science classrooms as well as other science classes," she says.

Her students also used SPIE grant funds to purchase materials for an annual Science Show that brings hands-on science lessons to elementary, middle, and junior high school students. The high-school students build projects for the Science Show and lead the younger students in inquiry-based, age-appropriate experiments and demonstrations.

"This causes the older students to learn about their chosen topics in depth (since they will have spent prior weeks researching and preparing) and allows the younger students to see how exciting science can be," Carder says.

photo of boy with gogglesLast October, Carder's students previewed the 2011 Science Show, to be held 13 May, to a group of younger students, including this boy (right) who learned about refraction and reflection while wearing a pair of goggles with glass lenses that cause images to be distorted and turned upside down.

Carder's students also used grant funds to build an inflatable tent with a reflective interior for the event. Students entering a fog-filled tent with handheld lasers learned how a laser beam is reflected in different directions due to the curved interior reflective surface. Another student constructed a tent lined with holiday lights. He then passed out diffraction-grating glasses to each child and directed them through the maze of lights.

"I believe the students have a much greater understanding and love of optics because of this equipment," Carder says.

The Fruitvale school was one of 32 non-profits from around the world that received SPIE education outreach grants in 2010.


Students get hands-on learning in after-school sciences program

The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA (USA), used an SPIE education outreach grant in 2010 to purchase an IR camera, a handheld IR thermometer, and related equipment for its "Seeing Eye to Eye" program. The Academy offers a 90-minute, inquiry-based science lesson to Philadelphia high-school students so they can explore the properties of light and the electromagnetic spectrum and learn about different visual systems in the animal kingdom.

photo of Timshell Purdum with students 
Timshel Purdum (center) uses UV lights, a cell phone camera, and other equipment to show students how to view UV reflection on butterfly wings. Male butterflies reflect ultraviolet patterns for mate selection. Photos courtesy Timshel Purdum.

Here, the Academy's Timshel Purdum (right) shows eighth-grade girls in an after-school science program how to use the Extech IRC40 FLIR IR camera. The handheld camera helps students visualize how a snake in complete darkness can detect the IR signature of their mammalian prey by using heat-sensing pits near their jaws. Research suggests that the nerves from these pits transmit data to the snake's optic tectum.

The IR camera has also been used during public events such as the Academy's "Heat Wave" weekend in January as a way of investigating the Albedo affect.

"Having access to this equipment is a unique opportunity," Purdum says, adding that "The student response to using the IR camera in the class has been overwhelmingly positive."

The Academy was one of 32 non-profits from around the world that received SPIE education outreach grants in 2010 to buy supplies for science programs and fairs, train teachers, and support summer camps and other activities that increase optics and photonics awareness. Some $85,000 in funding is available.

The next deadline to apply for an SPIE grant is 31 May. Apply online at spie.org/outreach.

Free resources from SPIE

In addition to education outreach grants, SPIE provides free educational resources to introduce the fields of optics and photonics into the classroom and to the general public.

Educational DVDs and CDs communicate basic principles about light, and posters on infrared radiation, lithography, metamaterials, biophotonics, remote sensing, lasers and photonics in medicine, and related topics increase public awareness about how light is used in daily life.

Kits that allow students to build kaleidoscopes and telescopes are also available.

And SPIE supports science and engineering fairs across the globe by providing awards and helping to find judges.

For more information, go to spie.org/educators

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201104.08

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