SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Activity grants benefit thousands of students

Oct. 7, 2008
OSA Foundation grants to OSA student chapters and local sections benefit students throughout the world.

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders


OSA Foundation grants to OSA student chapters and local sections benefit students throughout the world.

Many student chapters and local sections associated with scientific societies do truly wonderful work in reaching out to the young students in their local communities. These volunteers regularly deliver classroom presentations, organize special youth science events and support extracurricular programs in an effort to inspire young peoples' interest in math and science. Local organizations also host events focused on professional development for the benefit of those in advanced degree programs who will soon be entering the workforce.

This sort of work can make a significant difference in a student's life. From sparking a child's imagination, to providing a young adult with career-building skills, each small project counts toward the overarching efforts to make technical learning more accessible, and to support those with an interest in math and science.

Local education programs are a priority for the OSA Foundation OSA Foundation (OSAF). Each year, the Foundation provides education grants to many of the Optical Society of America's (OSA) student chapters and local sections. Currently, there are 140 chapters and 25 sections; about 70% of chapters are located outside the United States, including many in developing nations. As a result of the hard work of volunteers, and the funding supplied by the OSAF, thousands of students in more than 20 countries benefited from OSA education outreach efforts in 2007. The same holds true for 2008; the following are a few examples of programs that took place this year.

The Albannach Alliance Student Chapter of OSA (AASCOSA), based in Edinburgh, Scotland, launched its first educational outreach activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, a five-day event held March 31 to April 4, 2008. Members of AASCOSA staffed four stations where children (and their parents) could "Discover the World of Optics with AASCOSA." One of the busiest attractions was "Microscopes and Telescopes," which featured two microscopes with up to 30x magnification. "Concepts of the Eyes" allowed visitors to play with lenses and learn how glasses and human eyes work. A contrasting demonstration based on optical fibers showed how insects see using compound eyes, and allowed children to play at being insects themselves by observing color and illumination changes produced by a demonstrator manipulating the other end. The "Fluorescence" display demonstrated spectra generated from incandescent and energy-saving light bulbs, and "Interferometry" offered a simple Michelson interferometer connected to a HeNe laser.

"The audience was captivated by the science and engrossed in the various exhibits," reports Marcel Reuter, the chapter's director of exchequer. "The challenge of demonstrating optics experiments to the public was not merely a physical one. Many of the smartest and most difficult questions came from the youngest kids. Combined with the intellectual challenge to put difficult things into easy words, all people involved gained a lot from being in touch with the young scientists of tomorrow. To sum up, it was a very valuable and satisfying thing to demonstrate science to nonresearchers because it took us all out from our ivory tower."

The Optical Society of Chicago (OSC) received funding to continue a traditional optics presence at a pair of long-running programs: the Chicago Public Schools Science Fair, now in its 58th year, and Engineers Week, a program of science demonstrations presented at the Illinois Institute of Technology to DuPage County Schools for 24 years. The OSC has been providing optics demonstrations for the last five years, and one of its members has participated as an individual for ten years. OSAF funding has enabled the OSC to provide Science Fair Awards for the best projects in optics or using optics: $250 First Prize, $150 Second Prize, and $100 Third Prize, and to distribute promotional materials during Engineers Week. George E. Magerl, OSC president, said the program achieved its goals of promoting optics and optical principles to grade school and middle school children. He noted that 303 projects were displayed at the Science Fair. "About 350 visitors viewed the OSC display during Engineering Week," he said. "All were very positive and had many questions. We also were able to reach some of their parents, who were just as enthusiastic as the kids."

The Northwestern University Student Chapter (NWU-OSA) based in Evanston, Il, has launched an aggressive educational outreach program, with five events completed so far in 2008: two science Saturday volunteer programs at a local elementary school, a presence at Northwestern's Career Day for Girls, a field trip bringing advanced-placement science students from a local high school to Northwestern, and a demonstration at a local elementary school's first grade classroom. Matthew Hall, the NWU-OSA program contact, describes the programs as an overwhelming success. "We set out to try to instruct local students and interest them in optics. Judging by the quality of questions asked during the demonstrations and the general demeanour of the students, we did. We were also trying to increase our exposure in the Northwestern community and we have succeeded there as well."

The International OSA Network of Students, IONS, has already organized several large meetings that brought together young students from research centers and universities throughout Europe. In June, 2008, the University of Naples "Federico II" OSA Student Chapter used an activity grant to support the fourth IONS meeting. Participants heard 20 talks, including three invited presentations by eminent professors, and toured the university's Physics Department optics laboratories. Organizers also arranged several social activities, including a dinner, a city tour, and a trip to the Pompeii archaeological site. Anna Chiara De Luca, a chapter member, reports that the student hosts benefited as much as the participants. "The conference contributed to the students' leadership skills and provided experience outside their academic activities," she said. "There was a clear division of labor among the chapter members for securing outside funding, arranging the social events, organizing the talks and arranging the technical support. Moreover, most of the chapter members presented their research activities. It was a wonderful occasion for personal, scientific, and cultural exchange."

Several of the 2008 education grant recipients will present their accomplishments at the OSA Foundation Chairman's Breakfast, to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 21, during the OSA Frontiers in Optics (FiO)/Annual Meeting in Rochester, NY, USA. OSAF donors will have an opportunity to hear and talk with some of the groups that have benefited from their contributions. "Hearing about funded programs first-hand makes it all come alive for our donors," says Meredith Smith, OSAF director. "These grant winners are not just abstract 'projects,' they are real people who are benefiting in a very direct way from the work of the OSAF."

To learn more about OSA Student Chapters and Local Sections, please visit the Membership section of

The OSA Foundation, created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources, and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the Foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, are deductible as provided by law. All donors receive special recognition and acknowledgments, unless they request to be anonymous. Donations to the OSA Foundation are matched dollar-for-dollar by the Optical Society. For more information, please contact the OSA Foundation staff via telephone: +1.202.416.1421 or email: [email protected]. The OSAF recommends you contact a tax advisor for assistance with any form of giving.

GRACE KLONOSKI is the senior director, foundation and the member & education services, for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: [email protected];

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