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Highlighting Chapter Outreach Activities

By Benjamyn Lockwood and Dirk Fabian

With the year rapidly coming to a close, we would like to take some time to highlight the good work coming from SPIE Student Chapters.  Many chapters have made an extra effort to get out into their community and help foster interest in the fields of optics and photonics.  All efforts, from a single student visit to a multi-chapter outreach program, provide pre-college (K-12) students with valuable positive experiences in science. 


Students at José Vasconcelos School experiment with their telescopes.

Chapter Programs

The chapter at Tecnológico de Monterrey hosted two main outreach events. The first activity, called Terrific Telescopes, took place in José Vasconcelos School, located in Guadalupe, NL, and was conducted using the “Hands-on Optics” kit. There were a total of thirty-eight K-12 students. Another activity aimed to introduce K-12 students to the topic of Liquid Crystals by implementing the "mood patch" experiment. This is a permanent activity the chapter does every semester, with great results. From Fall 2007 – Spring 2008 they visited three different schools; performing the activity with almost 110 students.

The annual Optical Sciences Camp was held from June 9 to 13, 2008, at the University of Arizona with the title of “Optics, Lighting the Way to the Future.” Eighteen high school students participated. Twenty-five different hands-on workshops/presentations were offered, and fourteen were hosted by SPIE student chapter members. Students learned about many topics in optics such as medical imaging, polariscopes, quantum optics, and visual optics. They also had opportunities to interact with current graduate students in the College of Optical Sciences. The chapter received great feedback from high school students!


Participants of the ten day workshop in their telescope making session.

Chapter members at Cochin University of Science and Technology hosted a Ten Day workshop for School Children: "Physics: Scope and Awareness." Created for school children from institutions across Kerala, the workshop was inaugurated by Prof. V. Unnikrishnan Nayar, Science Dean of Cochin University, on 16th April 2008. The goal of the workshop was to give young students a basic exposure to interesting aspects of physics. Hands-on experience in physics, optics, and telescope making were arranged by the students of the chapter. The workshop also provided an opportunity for students to see some of the frontier experiments being carried out in the research labs of the Department.


Penn State chapter officer Michael Stinger instructs elementary students on various optic phenomena.

On a sunny Friday in June, Michael Stinger visited the Kelly Elementary school on behalf of the SPIE chapter at the Pennsylvania State University as part of their on-going optics outreach program. Stinger visited a second grade class, and provided 16 students with a hands-on opportunity to learn about some basic phenomena in optics; including polarization, wavelength, and refractive index. Asked about about the usefulness of teaching optics to second graders, Stinger says "It's never too early for optics! Children are curious about their world."

Global Outreach Effort

Through a grant from the European Commission, the Network of Excellence in Micro-Optics (NEMO) designed an outreach package called the EduKit.  NEMO's goal for the EduKit program is to expose students to the potential of micro-optics in science and engineering applications. The heart of the kit is a plastic card containing diffractive and refractive optical elements. Combined with a laser, this card can produce a large range of beam patterns, from simple splitting and grid patterns to complex images and words.

The SPIE Student Chapter at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussel has taken the lead in disseminating the EduKit to 21 other SPIE Student Chapters in the world. The plan is to get a first round of feedback on the kit by the end of the year so that the program can be reviewed and improvements made on the materials.

The challenge of the kit is integrating it into pre-college classroom instruction. Diffractive optics can be a mind-bending topic, especially for young students who are perhaps just being introduced to simple ray-tracing and basic geometric optics. Finding good ways to use the kit materials and the included lessons is the subject of the 2008 Outreach challenge from SPIE. Chapters participating in the first round of the kit evaluation can compete for $2000 in awards by producing short video demonstrations of basic principles and lessons that are possible with the kit. For the competition, videos can be uploaded to the SciVee.tv website and will be judged by a panel of science education experts. The overall goal is to produce a supplement of materials that can expand the accessibility of the kit.

SPIE Student Services thanks all chapters for their consistent dedication to outreach and promotion of science to the younger generation.  Please be sure to note all outreach activities in your chapter reports and include estimates of the number of students served through your efforts.