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SPIE Professional January 2010

Optics Outreach Is "Cool"

Recipients of SPIE education and outreach grants in 2009 gathered high school students in Lebanon to help build a solar car, engaged whole families in Moscow with diffraction and laser activities, and increased overall awareness about the importance of science education and optics.

Organizers of the all-Moscow Science Festival at the International Laser Center of Lomonosov Moscow State University in October reported that some activities were so popular among the 80 students, teachers, and parents that they had to convince participants it was time to leave at the end of the day. "We finished just because all the SPIE student members were too tired after five hours of non-stop work with the kids," says Elena Silaeva, the Chapter faculty president.

The support SPIE provided last year for optics and photonics related education outreach projects helped Cristina Solano of Centro de Investigaciones en Óptica buy equipment and conduct workshops for a science club that engaged children and teen-agers in León, Mexico. And 50 college students from Québec and Montreal (Canada) hosted the second annual Photonic Games for 115 students from three Québec City high schools.

High school student in Lebanon driving a solar car

One of the most successful outreach projects was the Spring 2009 Science and Arts Fair organized by the Lebanese American University in Byblos in May. Nearly 900 students from 32 high schools across Lebanon attended the two-day event. Some of the high-schoolers helped LAU students design and build a solar-power car (above) that drew attention to the need for energy conservation and alternative energy sources in a region that suffers from shortages and rationing of electricity.

"Solar cells could serve as a viable and reliable energy source with a low carbon and particulate emission," says Brigitte Wex, assistant professor at LAU.

Nearly 50 Canadian college students volunteered to introduce optics to 115 high school students at the Jeux Photoniques (Photonic Games) in Québec late last year.

High school students at Jeux Photoniques
High school students at Jeux Photoniques.

The program was funded through an SPIE education outreach grant and brought a full day of optics-related science activities to expose young people to the field of optics and photonics.

Students from Laval University and Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal used Jell-O (pictured) and more conventional optics "tools" to teach students from Vanier, Brebeuf, and La Camaradiere high schools about the properties of light.

Girls Scouts Say Science Workshop Makes Optics and Photonics 'Cool'

Middle- and high-school-aged Girl Scouts rated optics not only interesting but "cool" after participating in a hands-on science workshop in San Diego (USA) in October.

The workshop, titled "You Can Be ... Looking into the Future," was part of a series of programs offered by the San Diego Imperial Girl Scout Council to present science, math, and technology topics to girls in grades 6 through 12.

Girl Scouts learn about polarizing filters
Girl Scouts learn about polarizing filters.

The event was sponsored by SPIE and other optics and photonics organizations, and staffed by an all-women team of volunteers including a physicist from the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), a college physics instructor, and physics doctoral candidates.

The 55 attendees were provided with demonstrations on topics such as what makes laser light unique, how to bend light and focus it onto a target, and why the sun appears to the human eye as red and orange even though it is green. The girls also talked with volunteers about careers in physics and optical engineering.

Participants said the workshop enhanced what they have learned in their classrooms and that they were inspired by the women scientists who assisted as volunteers.

"Women in the field of science=fabulous," one participant wrote. Another summarized what she had learned: "Light is really cool!"

"Programs such as this are vital in inspiring the next generation of scientists to discover how optics and photonics work and their relevance in solving many of the world's challenges," said SPIE member Lisa Tsufura, technical marketing manager for CVI Melles Griot and chair of the SPIE Corporate and Exhibitor Committee.

"These technologies are fundamental in the communications networks that bring information to all parts of the world, enabling medical and biomedical advances, and in improving the quality of life in ways we have yet to conceive," Tsufura said.

SPIE supports numerous outreach programs at schools, universities, and community events around the world each year, ranging from poster contests and panel discussions to multi-day science camps and community events. The Society also awards education outreach grants twice a year and produces free posters and DVDs on various topics in optics, including careers in optics.

The outreach activities provide optics and photonics professionals with opportunities to directly connect with and mentor the next generation of scientists, engineers, and researchers.

Apply for SPIE Education Outreach Grants

As part of its education outreach mission, SPIE supports youth clubs like the Girl Scouts, universities, optics centers, schools, industry associations, and other not-for-profit organizations in increasing optics awareness.

Education outreach grants are awarded twice a year after a competitive application process.

The next deadlines for submitting proposals for SPIE education outreach grant are 31 January and 31 May. More information: spie.org/outreach

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

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201001.12

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