OISC gets helping hand for optics education

IRVINE, CA-Last summer, I profiled the Web site of The Optics Institute of Southern California (OISC; www.oisc.net) in Laser Focus World magazine (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/266395).

IRVINE, CA-Last summer, I profiled the Web site of The Optics Institute of Southern California (OISC; www.oisc.net) in Laser Focus World magazine (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/266395). The OISC is an educational resource in optics for young students that brings optics presentations, demonstrations and classroom “hands-on” materials to K-12 students and teachers in southern California and encourages students to study optics in college and provide them a path to an optics career. Those efforts are getting a helping hand this summer through a $5000 grant from SPIE (Bellingham, WA), as well as a $4000 grant from the Irvine Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT; Irvine, CA).

The $5000 SPIE grant will help the OISC fund its successful Optricks Suitcase program (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/292611). Using funding from SPIE and other organizations, companies, and individuals, the OISC has created 10 reusable Optricks Suitcases. These kits include the materials and instructions to demonstrate a number of different optical properties and phenomena in a fun, hands-on way. With the recent grant, the organization will build another 10 suitcases. “SPIE has been very supportive of the OISC’s efforts since its inception in 2003,” said Donn Silberman, founding director of the OISC and 2007-2008 president of the Optical Society of Southern California (www.ossc.org)-a local section of the Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington, DC). “The Optricks Suitcase program began in 2003 in Southern California with significant assistance from our Optical Society friends in Rochester, NY, when we received one of their Optics Suitcases to use in some of our first outreach programs,” said Silberman. “Working with the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Educational Partnerships-Gifted Student Academy, we created the Gifted Student Lower Academy-Exploratorium based in part on the Color My World lessons from our friends at the General Atomics Sciences Education Foundation. The Optricks Suitcases have now been used as a conerstone of many of our outreach programs.”

In addition to the SPIE grant, CACT awarded a $4000 grant to the OISC to help fund its successful optics education outreach programs. Through events such as their annual Optricks Days and various outreach programs at the University of California, Irvine, the OISC has reached more than 5000 students in just four years. “The Irvine Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) has also been very supportive of the OISC since its founding,” said Donn Silberman. “CACT director Larry DeShazer has been instrumental in bringing the OISC physically under his wing into the current temporary facility 18 months ago and now we will move into the South Orange County Community College District’s (SOCCCD) new Advanced Technology and Education Park (ATEP).”

The CACT award will be split into two parts, $2000 for expanding outreach programs, and $2000 being designated to the 2nd incarnation of the “Speed of Light Exhibit” which is scheduled to be open in the summer of 2008 at the University of California, Irvine’s Beall Center for Art & Technology. This exhibit will be an expansion of the 1st version which was in October 2004 at the Irvine Civic Center. The exhibit at the Beall Center will include a series of ‘Hands-On Optics’ interactive displays and demonstrations through which visitors can explore the world of optics. The OISC will partner with others, including the Optical Society of Southern California to bring this new exhibit to life over the next 12 months.

The OISC has played a key role in establishing the Irvine CACT as a place for professional optics education and a focal point for optics educational outreach programs. The Irvine CACT and the OISC was designated a National Center for Photonics Education, a National Science Foundation Center of Excellence. The prestigious designation was awarded to thirteen centers across the U.S. that have committed to increasing the pool of well-trained technicians in optics and photonics by creating a secondary-to-postsecondary “pipeline” of highly qualified and strongly motivated students. The selected centers will receive grant funding for four years from the National Science Foundation to create one- and two-year postsecondary programs devoted specifically to lasers, optics, and photonics technology as well as high-demand technologies that are enabled by optics and photonics, such as biomedicine, manufacturing, information technology, and engineering. Donn Silberman concluded, “There is so much synergy in all the programs we are currently working and so many new opportunities right in front of us that we just keep growing and reaching new young people all the time and now it seems like we are reaching a critical mass-the future looks very bright indeed!!”
-Gail Overton

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