SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Delivering optics exhibits beyond a museum’s walls

Oct. 4, 2011
Many science museums do a magnificent job of presenting attention-grabbing scientific concepts to the visiting public of all ages.

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders.

Many science museums do a magnificent job of presenting attention-grabbing scientific concepts to the visiting public of all ages. But how can these organizations reach students and adults who are unable to travel to the museum? Innovative organizations, such as the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) in Rochester, NY, are leading the way in using new methods for delivering programs and exhibits to audiences who are far beyond their museum’s walls.

The Rochester Museum’s national distance learning program, "Light There/Light Now," is a two-fold educational experience designed to teach students in grades 4–10 about optics. Through video conferencing and hands-on optics activities, students experience a virtual field trip as they explore the museum’s exhibits and learning. This newly developed program is enthusiastically supported by the OSA Foundation (OSAF) through its grant-giving program. The OSAF also provides "Optics Discovery Classroom Kits," which remain at participating schools for a week, allowing students an extended time period to work on activities and experiments.

The distance program begins with the topic, "What is Light," which takes the virtual visitors to the "Bubble Swing" area of the museum’s exhibit. Here the concepts of white light and the electromagnetic spectrum are discussed and demonstrated. As the camera continues its journey around the exhibit, students are introduced to lasers, reflection, refraction, and the concept of concave and convex lenses and mirrors. The virtual visit ends with a look at the Laser Harp, a device that uses optical sensors to generate musical notes when hands are waved along invisible harp strings.

As the virtual visitor moves from one section to another, short recorded interviews of people in the optics field are played. The scientists who are profiled explain why they chose a career in optics, why they find the field fascinating, and why they enjoy their profession.

It is not surprising that the RMSC is at the forefront of optics education given Rochester’s rich history as a global center for imaging and optics research. The Rochester region was the birthplace of Bausch & Lomb as well as the Eastman Kodak Company and Xerox Corporation. It is also the home to more than 50 leading optics and imaging businesses. The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester provides students with an outstanding educational and research experience in Optical Physics, applied optics and optical engineering. The Institute of Optics has granted over 2,400 degrees in optics, approximately half of all degrees awarded in optics in the United States.

The OSA Foundation (OSAF) was established in 2002 to support philanthropic activities that help further the Optical Society's (OSA) mission by concentrating its efforts on programs that advance youth science education, provide optics and photonics education to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. The grants funded by the OSA Foundation are made possible by the generous donations of its supporters, as well as the dollar-for-dollar match from OSA. For more information, visit


GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior Director, Foundation, Membership & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: [email protected];

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