SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Scientists and engineers volunteer time and talent to inspire local students

March 29, 2010
A group of scientists and engineers in Southern California is reaching out to the local community to bring young people the message that science and optics can be a fun and rewarding career choice.


A group of scientists and engineers in Southern California is reaching out to the local community to bring young people the message that science and optics can be a fun and rewarding career choice. Over the past seven years, the Optical Society of Southern California (OSSC), a local section of the Optical Society of America (OSA), has developed a youth outreach program in addition to organizing monthly meetings and professional education programs.

In early 2003, OSSC member Donn Silberman founded the Optics Institute of Southern California (OISC) to focus on K-12 youth outreach efforts. The following year, OSSC and OISC joined forces to organize Optricks Days, an outreach effort held at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, CA, that has become an annual event. “Our goal is to encourage students to study optics in college and provide paths for them to follow,” says Silberman, who currently serves as the OSSC outreach chair. “We offer optics exhibits, demonstrations, presentations, and classroom hands-on materials to students and teachers, and we also provide local companies with a forum to showcase their technologies to young people.”

OISC and OSSC have received a number of grants from OSA and the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) for materials used in the Optricks hand-on presentations. A centerpiece of these hands-on activities has been the Optricks Suitcase, which has been modified over the years from the original Optics Suitcase developed by the OSA Rochester section. The Optricks Suitcase includes a user’s guide to enable teachers to replicate the activities with their students.

Silberman and his team of volunteers continually modify the Optricks Days presentations to keep the event current and relevant. Murty V. Mantravadi, PhD, made his first appearance as “Dr. Murty, the Wizard of Light” at the Third Annual Optricks Days and he has participated in the event each year since. In 2010, Optricks Days will feature a Laser Extravaganza, designed to tie into LaserFest, the year-long 2010 worldwide celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first working laser. Silberman plans to continue to include laser-related activities in future Optricks Days.

“Children today live in an environment that demands a sophisticated technical skillset,” says Silberman. “It’s vitally important that we reach them early with the message that science can be enjoyable.”

Other OSSC youth outreach activities have included presentations at the UC Irvine Beall Center for Art+Technology at their Family Day events; presentations at school assemblies, local classrooms, after-school programs, and high school clubs; science fair projects and judging; and activities with local Girl Scout groups using the "Lighten Up" activities developed with the OSA Foundation. Many OSSC members have also participated in the "Hands-On Optics" (HOO) and continue to use materials from those activities.

OSSC does not limit its outreach activities to K-12 students but also develops programs for colleges and the general community. In 2009, OISC and OSSC partnered to bring 100 Galileoscopes to Southern California as a tie-in to the International Year of Astronomy. The Galileoscopes were used at workshops and other events promoting optical science education, where they were available for sale at a nominal fee. New this year are programs on optical engineering and instrument design, coordinated through UC Irvine Extension. The lead instructor is OSSC vice president Valentina Doeskin, and Silberman is developing certification programs for the curriculum.

The Optical Society of America has more than 20 local sections around the world. OSA and the OSA Foundation support the education outreach efforts of these sections through activity grants, materials, and more.

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 recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the Foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the 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 development staff via telephone (202-416-1421) or e-mail [email protected]. OSA recommends you contact a tax advisor for assistance with any form of giving.

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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