SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Traveling lecturers bring leading-edge content to students

The OSA and IEEE offer guest lecturer programs that bring experts to audiences of eager-to-learn students worldwide.

Jul 24th, 2009

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and business


Universities and professional societies are among the best providers of guest lecture programs---these organizations understand the importance of bringing topic experts to audiences of eager to learn students.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Distinguished Lecturer Program is a great example of a quality approach to delivering content to students around the world. The IEEE subsidizes talks made by engineering professionals who focus on new technical developments and their applications. These experts specialize in the field of interest of their Society/Council and travel to various technical and regional groups to lecture at events.

The Optical Society of America (OSA) hosts lectures that take place at its student chapters and local sections throughout the year. Each chapter and section is entitled to an OSA-funded lecture annually. The Society covers the lecturer's travel and related expenses; host universities or sections interface with the speaker to arrange logistics and special events such as receptions and dinners.

The OSA lecture program has evolved with the growth of student chapters. From a modest benefit for 24 chapters in 2000, to a sophisticated operation that serves over 170 universities globally, the lecture program is a valuable resource that has the potential to inspire students and influence their academic and professional lives. The program now features an online directory of speakers who are ready and willing to be guest speakers upon request. Chapters and sections may invite one of these speakers, or any other topic expert of their choosing. The following are some examples of 2009 speaking events.

William T. Rhodes, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Florida Atlantic University and Associate Director of FAU's Imaging Technology Center, traveled to Galway, Ireland, in March, 2009, to present a lecture to the National University of Ireland Galway Student Chapter. He summarized four centuries of activities in the world of optics, from the first telescope to modern day lasers. Chapter President Arlene Smith reported, "Bill Rhodes's talk drew the largest crowd to a physics department talk in my memory--we ran out of chairs! The talk was a truly remarkable story of the history of the subject that we are all involved in. Prof. Rhodes also took the time to chat with us individually about our projects and I can say that we all benefited greatly from his expertise and his real interest in our work."

Frank Duarte, the founder of Interferometric Optics in Rochester, New York, traveled to the Student Chapter at Universidad de Santiago de Chile in April 2009 to discuss Dirac notation in beam propagation and interferometry. Ignacio E. Olivares, the chapter advisor, noted that "The seminar room was filled with nearly 50 students, scholars, and professors. His visit was very enriching for our Student Chapter and other students."

Prof. Chandrasekhar Roychoudhuri was invited by the Latvian Student Chapter to speak at the 5th International Student Conference on Developments in Optics and Communications at the Institute of Solid State Physics in Riga, Latvia. He gave a two-part seminar on "Exploring the Nature of Light by Revisiting Basic Classical and Quantum Optics" in which he presented a set of controversies in the classical interpretation of quantum mechanics and also proposed how to overcome the controversies. Linards Kalvans, the chapter president, reported that "The participants got some fresh ideas on the very fundamentals of physics and also had the opportunity to have informal discussions with Prof. Roychoudhuri."

Carlos Lopez-Mariscal, a postdoctoral researcher at the Atomic Physics division of the National Institute for Standards and Technology [NIST] in Maryland, accepted two speaking engagements this year. He journeyed to the University of Ljubljana Chapter in Slovenia in February to deliver a short course on optical tweezers, and in April he was the guest speaker at the Moscow State University OSA Student Chapter, where he discussed optical trapping and applications. Lopez-Mariscal says of the experience, "The Traveling Lecturer program is undoubtedly one of the most enlightening benefits for student chapters and its members. Being able to interact with students face-to-face in a local environment is the most productive and inspiring of experiences. Although a successful program intended for the benefit of students, the program has also provided me with a perspective of optics that I would have never had access to were it not for the opportunity of being a traveling lecturer."

Chapters and sections are encouraged to create video records of the Traveling Lecturer presentations as a resource for the larger optical community. The videos are posted to the media section of the website.

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:;

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 e-mail: .

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