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23 October 2015

People's Choice Award: Light for education

The photograph "Studying" by Handi Laksono captured in a home in
Wae Rebo, Flores NTT, Indonesia, on  1 September 2014,
is the People's Choice Award winner in the
SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest.
A photo of a 5-year-old boy studying in a dark hut, with only natural morning light streaming through a small window, has been selected for the People's Choice Award in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest.

The contest was sponsored by SPIE Professional, the quarterly magazine of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, as part of the International Year of Light observance. SPIE is a Founding Partner.

Captured by Javanese travel and landscape photographer Handi Laksono, the winning photo was taken after Laksono hiked three hours to the remote village of Wae Rebo on Flores Island in Indonesia.

Wae Rebo's only lighting source is solar, either direct sunlight or a few small solar panels, Laksono said. He noted that the solar panel in the house he visited powers a single light bulb that is used only for a few hours in the evening.

"For the children who wish to study in their houses in the morning, the light from the small windows is the option," he said.

See more of his work in Laksono’s portfolio.

See all the People's Choice contestants' photos in previous posts:

22 October 2015

Cars on Mars: following Curiosity and getting excited about science

Mars Curiosity Rover scientist Melissa Rice inspires
the next generation with talk of exploring the
Red Planet: see the video on SPIE.tv [23:55].
(Above, Rice at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab
with a model of the Curiosity.)
If it wanted to, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover could stretch its 7-foot arm up from its 10-foot-high body and slam-dunk a basketball.

Admittedly, it isn’t likely that any of NASA’s Rovers -– cars on Mars, as some call them –- will find any basketball hoops on the Red Planet.

But the space agency’s newest robotic Mars explorer, the Curiosity, has found evidence of ancient lakes, captured images that reveal the composition of rocks on the planet’s surface, and done something many of us have done: taken selfies to post on FaceBook.

Curiosity’s discoveries are far from over. The robot is just now reaching the foothills of the lofty (5.5 km, or 18,000 feet) Mount Sharp, with its mission to scale the peak and report back about what it finds along the way.

That in itself is amazing. On top of that, the telling of that story by scientists such as Melissa Rice, a member of the Curiosity team and a professor at Western Washington University, turns out to be a powerful way to get kids interested in science -- and perhaps to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

In an International Year of Light event in Bellingham, Washington, USA, this week, Rice told how light-based science and technology are used by the Curiosity Rover, now in its third year of exploration on Mars.

Curiosity uses solar panels to keep its batteries charged, sophisticated cameras not extremely different in concept from those in our ubiquitous smartphones to navigate and record the scenery, and lasers to vaporize tiny bits of rock that other cameras using special filters image to determine how the rocks were formed.

Wrapping up her talk, Rice noted that Curiosity has been such a success that NASA said “let’s build another.”

Now under construction, Mars 2020 is scheduled to land on Mars in 2021. Some of Rice’s students are involved in selecting the landing site, from which the robot will step out on its mission to drill into rocks and collect rocks to be studied on Earth with even more sophisticated experiments than Curiosity’s.

Rice concluded by reaching out to the younger set among the audience of nearly 1,000 who gathered to hear her and to experience the spellbinding laser show by Prismatic Magic that followed.

“Some of you in the audience tonight are the right age to be the first generation to go to Mars” she said, evoking images from the new book and movie The Martian in many minds. “In the 2030s and 2040s, I hope you look back and give us all a wave.”

After the applause died down, a 10-year-old boy was heard telling his father, “That’s definitely on my ‘bucket list.’ I have to go to Mars.”

Images from the laser show: