Motivating youth to pursue optics and photonics in their post-secondary education and future careers has proven to be a challenging obstacle for members of the community today. Photonics Explorer, a program designed to educate children about the fascination of working with light, uses a novel approach that has demonstrated early success among secondary schools in Europe.
Photonics Explorer kits contain mirrors, filters, and other optics and photonics equipment with the aim of engaging, exciting, and educating secondary school students about light-based technologies. The kits emphasize hands-on classroom experiments to demonstrate what can be learned from working with light.
For instance, one experiment designed for older secondary students incorporates a specially designed laser to study diffraction properties and teaches students how to use those properties to measure wavelengths.
An important feature of Photonics Explorer is that kits are easily integrated into the classroom; small groups of students can conduct experiments on the tables in front of them. Many previous education outreach efforts involve class outings and field trips, which can be expensive and more difficult to access.
The program, developed by experienced teachers and science professors, specialists in gender-sensitive material, and photonics experts from 10 European countries, emphasizes teamwork and real-world application of concepts. It has been tested in the local languages of seven European countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the UK. Over 1500 students participated, and the outcome produced very positive results in a preliminary evaluation by the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education.
All of the material for Photonics Explorer, including training courses for teachers, is free to schools. Funding has come from the European 7th Framework Programme, several companies, SPIE, and other scientific organizations.
Individuals offer support for the program through personal skills, mostly as volunteers. SPIE member Amrita Prasad is the CEO of Photonics Explorer. SPIE 2009 President Maria J. Yzuel (Spain) and SPIE Fellow Hugo Thienpont (Belgium) serve on program boards and have been early supporters. SPIE Europe contributes multimedia material for the kits.
More information: www.photonics-explorer.eu.