SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: OSA grassroots education outreach continues to thrive

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders.

The 2008 Optical Society of America activity-grant program has awarded grants to student chapters and local sections around the world.


Each year, the global network of Optical Society of America student chapters and local sections have the opportunity to apply for grant funding to help support their grassroots education outreach projects. Happily, the 2008 youth science education grant program generated more than 55 applications, a 40% increase over last year. Moreover, the '08 programs hosted by these local organizations are especially original and impactful. This month we will highlight several of the 2008 grant winners--we hope their stories will inspire you to become involved in your community's schools and extracurricular education programs.

Local and student groups around the world are developing innovative projects to interest young people in optics and photonics with the assistance of funding from the Optical Society of America Foundation (OSAF). The OSAF provides grant support to OSA Local Sections and Student Chapters in the form of grants of up to $1,000 for grassroots education efforts.

Funded programs focus on local educators, parents, and students with the objective of sharing information and generating excitement about science. The grant applications sought funding for a wide range of programs--including science fairs, seminars, student retreats, traveling lecturers, website development, photography contests, field trips and laser construction--all designed to motivate students to pursue careers in optics and to strengthen ties between the optics community and academia, industry and the public at large.

"We're thrilled to see the creativity and solid planning shown in the grant applications," said Meredith Smith, director of the OSAF. "The steady growth in the number of applications over time demonstrates the impact that even modest amounts of funding can have on grassroots educational outreach efforts, both in the U.S. and abroad. We want to take this opportunity to congratulate the 2008 grant winners. We hope their work will inspire others to develop outreach projects in future years."

Here are some of the 2008 grant winners:

The University of Alabama at Huntsville/Huntsville-Electro-Optical Society is holding a student poster session at an unusual venue-–a cookout. This third annual event attracts people from industry, academia and government labs, and allows students to present their work to professional researchers in the community and potential employers. Two $500 scholarship awards are given for best poster presentation.

The National Capital Section of the OSA will honor outstanding middle and high school students at a gala awards presentation and banquet at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Approximately 25 students in the Washington DC Metro region who created "Outstanding" science fair projects in the field of optics will have the opportunity to present their projects to optical engineers and scientists and hear a lecture by a renowned scientist or engineer in the field of optics.

The OSA Latvian Section in Riga, Latvia, is establishing a national-scale Photonics Outreach Center in the heart of Old Riga. Plans include multicolor laser animation equipment and interactive optical devices for visitors; a public photonics library and reading room; space to hold workshops, seminars, exhibitions and high-tech shops; and professional consultations on specific optics/photonics problems with University of Latvia Institute of Atomic Physics and Spectroscopy researchers.

The Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú Student Chapter is creating a program to teach students to "Construct your own Telescope at Home." Students from five local schools in Lima will learn to design and construct a Newton's refraction telescope and study how the light trajectory changes when the characteristics of each optic element vary. Participating schools will receive three telescopes and educational materials. The grant application noted that "in Peru these activities don't exist as part of the educational system."

The Australian National University [ANU] OSA Student Chapter will host three to five rural and outback students age 13 to 16 and their guardians on a two-day visit to the ANU campus. The visiting students will visit laboratories and residence halls and meet with students/staff, faculty and administrators. The project, an extension of a 2007 program entitled "Optics in the Outback," will promote the study of optics and physics and highlight the benefits and opportunities of a career in science.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology [KAIST] OSA Student Chapter is developing a tutorial on wireless optical communications for high school students. The tutorial will demonstrate the basics of fiber optic communications and optical components such as laser diodes, light emitting diodes, photo detectors, optical fibers and characteristics of light. The project will include regular seminars about recent trends in optical fiber communication systems and a workshop on career development for members of the KAIST OSA Student Chapter.

The V. Karazin Kharkov [Ukraine] National University [KNU] Student Chapter is holding its third annual "Optical Images" photography contest for regional high-schools students. Contestants will submit photographs demonstrating an optical phenomenon accompanied by an essay explaining the physics of the phenomenon. The photographs will be judged for their originality, creativity and demonstrated thought behind the photographic content and composition. Winning entries will be featured at an awards ceremony at KNU, a long-term photo exhibit will be mounted in the university lobby, and the complete photo gallery will be posted on the chapter website.

Information about OSA chapters and sections and the OSA Foundation is available online.

GRACE KLONOSKI is the senior director, foundation and member and education services, for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; e-mail:;

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