SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Traveling lecturers promote photonics

July 6, 2008
The OSA's Traveling Lecturer Program gives members worldwide an opportunity to hear industry luminaries give presentations in a small setting.

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business leaders


The opportunity to meet a leading researcher or business entrepreneur in their field of study can be a milestone for students and young professionals that can influence their studies and career decisions. Recognizing the positive role these sorts of exchanges can play, the Optical Society (OSA) has for many years hosted a Traveling Lecturer Program in support of its global network of student chapters and local sections. The lecturer program allows each chapter and section to annually invite a lecturer of their choice. Some chapters and sections use the online directory of guest lecturers available on; others invite an expert who is new to the program. In all cases, the OSA funds the lecturer's travel-related costs.

The host chapters and sections, as well as guest lecturers, are asked to provide OSA with a report on their experience. This feedback provides useful information on aspects of the program that work particularly well and is a forum for making suggestions for improvement.

Despite the "America" in its name, OSA is a global organization; nearly 50% of its members reside outside the U.S. and of its pool of 136 student chapters are located at leading universities in more than 30 countries. Unfortunately, many of these students are unable to get visas to attend technical meetings, and others lack the funds for international travel.

"OSA is committed to the academic and professional development of our student members," says KiKi L'Italien, OSA chapter and student services manager. "The Traveling Lecturer Program is a valuable opportunity for members who might not be able to travel to major conferences to hear presentations from luminaries in a small setting where they are able to interact directly with the presenter."

The lecturer program has grown steadily over the years. To further maximize its benefits, OSA staff works with host chapters and sections to invite students from nearby universities to attend their guest lecturer's presentation. Depending on where they are traveling, lecturers are sometimes asked to expand their trip to include additional presentations to chapters and sections that are located in or near the country they are visiting. The following are a few examples of recent lectures:

In May, 2008, Dr. Irving J. Bigio of Boston University traveled to Kharkov, Ukraine, to present a lecture at the first All-Ukrainian Young Scientist Conference on Low Temperature Physics, held at the Institute for Low Temperature Physics and Engineering. Dr. Bigio discussed a powerful new tool for precancer detection based on elastic light scattering that enables real-time noninvasive study of tissue properties. Dr. Artem V. Boriskin, the faculty adviser for the host chapter commented, "The participants gained state-of-the-art knowledge in precancer diagnostics, including a general description of the problem, current challenges, and diagnostic methods. Dr. Bigio's presentation highlighted a successful multi-disciplinary research that combined physics, engineering and medicine and finally resulted in the development of an advanced and highly demanded medical instrument. This will help young scientists to look more widely at the problems they are working on and will stimulate the search for possible applications."

Dr. Richard W. Peterson of Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, presented "Developments in Optics and Communications" to the OSA Latvian Student Chapter in Riga, Latvia, in April 2008. Professor Peterson conducted two optics demonstrations, the first on the He-Ne laser using an external cavity, and the second on using optics for studying the ping-pong canon. "Participants learned how to use simple and affordable equipment for very advanced and extraordinary optics demonstrations," notes Linards Kalvans, the chapter president. Dr. Peterson's presentation can be viewed online.

The OSA encourages chapters and sections to record presentations so they can be posted to the media section of the Web site. "We hope to develop a comprehensive archive of presentations in the Traveling Lecturer Program," says L'Italien. "This will enable us to extend the reach and longevity of the program far beyond the host organization and local audience."

Another, similar speaker program funded by the OSA provides individual travel grants to OSA Fellows who visit and lecture in developing nations. The goals of the program are to provide quality programming to science communities in the developing world, and to build strong, lasting relationships with regional science communities. Typically, Fellows who are planning to visit a region use the travel grants to coordinate their scheduled activities with additional speaking engagements. Fellows most often lecture at local universities and student chapters, but they may also reach out to regional business groups or peer organizations.

"Traveling Fellows are ambassadors for OSA," says Kari Apter, director of executive office programs. "They are encouraged to plan substantive agendas in the regions they visit and to actively seek opportunities to meet members of the local scientific communities. We have found that these face-to-face meetings are excellent ways to develop and foster relationships and partnerships."

Participants are enthusiastic about the value of the program. "OSA's Fellow Travel Grant Program is enormously valuable to both the visiting lecturer and those visited," says Jonathan Marangos, chair of OSA's International Council. "It allows for an in-person exchange of information and frequently leads to future collaborations."

The OSA Foundation created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, and provide career and professional development resources.

GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior dDirector, 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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