SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Educating, enlightening, and exciting young audiences with targeted science programming

June 23, 2010
Young scientists in countries around the world are getting hands-on experience providing educational programming in their local communities through a grant program from the Optical Society Foundation.


Young scientists in countries around the world are getting hands-on experience providing educational programming in their local communities through a grant program from the Optical Society Foundation. Each year, the OSAF provides special funding to support grassroots youth education projects that yield benefits for both the presenters and their young audiences. Two innovative programs developed in 2010 illustrate the scope, reach, and creativity of the activities.

“Duo Les Filles & Les Sciences” is an ongoing annual program developed by the École Polytechnique de Montréal Student Chapter to introduce teenage girls to the possibilities of a career in science. Three hundred girls aged 13–15 were offered the opportunity to choose “hands-on science” activities related to either the chromatic properties of light or wave properties of light for telecommunication.

The Student Chapter has been involved with the program, first created in 1998, for six years. Each year the chapter offers two different activities, alternating them from year to year. Each activity is given three times per day. To ensure continuity, the OSAF handles publicity and coordination.

“We received excellent feedback from both the organizer and the participants,” says Jean-Simon Corbeil, Chapter president. “The photos show how basic concepts of optics and photonics can be made to be appealing to middle- and high-school girls.”

The OSAL Student Chapter in Salamanca, Spain, sponsored “The Optics Adventure,” which consisted of two subprograms: seminars and a colloquium for students in their final year of high school, and a seminar and laboratory visits for 15-year-olds.

The program offered to the older students had three main goals: to review the basic physical concepts learned during the school year; to introduce the concept of the laser and its applications; and to promote research in optics and disseminate information about promising scientific installations in the region (CLPU). The one-hour seminars included several hands-on demonstrations.

The younger students’ seminar featured several eye-catching optics demonstrations where they learned basic optical concepts and gained an awareness of the importance of optics in society and daily life. The topics of the experiments included high-intensity lasers, refraction and reflection of optical fibers, holography and image formation (“are you sure what you are looking at is real?”), polarization and 3-D movies, and liquid crystals. Participating teachers received a kit containing polarized 3-D glasses, diffractive glasses, two polarizers, anaglyphic glasses, an OSAL flyer, and instructions to supplement future lessons.

“We targeted middle school and high school students to encourage them to consider a career in science,” says Rocío Borrego Varillas, the Chapter member who served as primary contact for the event. “This was our first year offering the program and we were very happy with the results. In principle, the laboratory visits were just for the middle school students, but demand was so high that we decided to extend the activity to the older students.”

The Chapter reached out to schools through the city council, which organizes cultural activities for schools, and through faculty advisors who were able to provide outreach to secondary school teachers. 235 students from eight middle schools and 150 high school students participated in the program.

“The OSA Foundation’s primary goal is to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators,” says Meredith Smith, OSAF director. “The future’s great scientists and leaders are among the young people of today and tomorrow. These students live and study around the world. Some have the resources and support needed to succeed, but many others do not. All students should have access to quality education resources. Everyone deserves a chance to explore scientific studies and careers.”

The OSA Foundation 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 & 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 by OSA. The Foundation is exempt from US federal income taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is a public charity. To learn more about the OSA Foundation or to find out how to donate, please visit or e-mail [email protected].

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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