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19 January 2017

German optical company helps refugees succeed at work

In 2015 alone, more than 1.1 million refugees streamed into Germany seeking a new life. Thousands more have arrived since then. For many, finding work is a key step in the successful integration into a new society.

To help with this transition, the city of Berlin held Germany’s first refugee-only job fair in December of 2016. Berliner Glas, a company that designs and manufactures optical components, assemblies, and systems, was one of the 211 companies that met with more than 4,000 refugee job seekers during the one-day event. The attendees came from a wide variety of vocational backgrounds -- from science and technology to sales and construction. They also presented challenges not usually found among native-born German job applicants.

Berliner Glas booth at job fair for refugees in Berlin
"The integration of refugees into everyday work does not succeed just by pressing a button, said Dr. Regina Draheim-Krieg, head of Human Resources at Berliner Glas.” Many conditions have to be fulfilled and willingness from both the company and the refugee to try something new is essential.”

Dr. Draheim-Krieg points out that “a high degree of appreciation, flexibility, and openness” is required by both the company hiring and the refugees themselves. Language plays a key role, and learning German is basic for integrating refugee employees, said Draheim-Krieg.

Some companies in Germany offer German language courses for refugees, while others, such as Berliner Glas, offer flexible hours so new employees can participate in language classes outside of work. Berliner Glas also pays part of the course fees for refugees.

Job qualification also plays a key role. Working with Germany’s Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), Berliner Glas has set up training for those new to the industry and experienced workers who may need additional training.

Since the 2016 job fair, Berliner Glas has taken on two refugee workers and recently hired a new intern.

Employees in clean room at Berliner Glas
There have been other refugee-only job fairs in cities across Germany and Berlin will be hosting their second on 25 January. Due to their positive experience with refugee workers, Berliner Glas will be attending again.

According to Ekkehard Streletzki, initiator of the Berlin job fair and owner of Estrel Berlin where the event is held, the response from job seekers and employers has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Through the job fairs, Berlin’s business community is creating a platform for incorporating work and vocational training, said Streletzki. “We see it as our social responsibility to ensure a successful future economy and peaceful coexistence.”

Kevin Liddane, Director of Business Development for North America at Berliner Glas, is proud of his colleagues for participating in this program, especially in light of recent violent events in Berlin. “This program says a lot about the people at Berliner Glas, the citizens of Berlin, and Germans in general who have been sheltering refugees,” said Liddane. “I believe we could all learn a valuable lesson from them.”

16 January 2017

Understanding the brain through photonics collaborations

Raphael Yuste discusses work in brain mapping
in a new video interview with SPIE.
Rafael Yuste and his research group at Columbia University are trying to image the neural circuits of the brain in hopes of gaining a better understanding of how the brain functions.

However, said Yuste in a recent tour and video interview of his lab with SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, “The methods in neuroscience have not been there yet.”

Ysute is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits at Columbia. He and David Boas (director of the optics division of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School) chair the new Brain applications track at SPIE Photonics West 2017 in San Francisco, running 28 January through 2 February.

Using novel optical techniques such as two-photon and nonlinear microscopy, Yuste’s lab is trying to bring 3D imaging to the activity of the neural circuits inside the brain. It isn’t yet understood how these circuits work, but it is believed that this is where behavior and mental states are determined.

“Unless we have the basic understanding of the biology of the tissue that generates these diseases we are not going to be able to go in intelligently and cure them. It’s kind of like trying to fix a car if you don’t know how it works,” Yuste explained.

Originally trained as an M.D., Yuste switched to basic neuroscience because of his frustration with trying to treat schizophrenic patients and patients who have mental or neurological diseases.

“I’m sure everyone has family or friends who suffer from mental disorders or neurological disorders and you know very, very, well that there are no cures for these diseases as of today. There is nothing we can do for these patients. We treat them by trying to bring down their symptoms, but without attacking the cause of the problem, because we do not know what the causes of the problem are.”

Yuste’s lab is one of many labs worldwide working on imaging the brain and its functions. Recent increases in federal funding including the BRAIN Initiative have brought a new energy to discovering how the brain functions and how to better address mental illness through the physical sciences.

Bringing these researchers together to discuss their successes and failures is an important part of advancements in the field, he notes.

“Neuroscience has not profited from advances in physical sciences as much as it could,” he said. “SPIE Photonics West is an ideal venue for the transfer of expertise from the physical sciences and engineering into biology and neuroscience. And we need to build a bridge, to have people who know how to build and operate microscopes and design optical systems with biologists who need methods to answer particular biological questions. “

The Brain applications track is organized to bring together all the presentations that have to do with this interface between optical methods and neuroscience, Yuste said, highlighting some of the most interesting work being doing in the field and discussing multidisciplinary collaborations to move the work forward.

Yuste also will give a talk in the Neurotechnologies plenary session Sunday afternoon (29 January) during Photonics West.

View more about content and participants in the SPIE Photonics West playlist on YouTube/SPIEtv.

09 January 2017

#FacesofPhotonics: Educated

Among the #FacesofPhotonics: Student Leadership
Workshop participants at SPIE Optics + Photonics
Guest blogger: Emily Power is a 2016 graduate in communications from Western Washington University, and most recently social media intern for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. She blogged on responses to the SPIE #FacesofPhotonics campaign, to share the stories of SPIE students around the globe. This is the second of four posts.

One of the many perquisites of being a student in the optics and photonics field is being able to pass along knowledge to those who will follow your footsteps in the future. Throughout the #FacesofPhotonics campaign, it became clear that current SPIE students thrive on educating a younger generation while simultaneously working diligently on their own academic careers.

In this post, we feature students who have educated others as well as themselves.

Teboho Bell
Teboho Bell is from the Republic of South Africa, and is involved with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Optics Student Chapter in South Africa. He is currently a researcher for the CSIR in the National Laser Centre. He shares the story of his favorite outreach event:

“I was visiting my hometown during South African National Week; I went to two high schools that are there, gave a public lecture about lasers and optics, and on career paths after high school. Most importantly, I motivated the scholars before their final exams trials.

In addition, Bell notes, “Our student chapter bought about nine textbooks to give to those scholars to share since they do not have study materials. The textbooks we gave as awards for answering questions based on the public lecture that was given.”

Elizabeth Bernhardt and friend
Elizabeth Bernhardt is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant in Department of Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University. She studies nonlinear optics, and is very involved with the student chapter at her school. She tells two stories of her involvement with the education of young minds:

“It's the little moments that make life the very best,” Bernhardt said. “Our OSA/SPIE chapter created a laser maze; during the grand unveiling, there was a little kid who was super-afraid of the lasers. He was so worried he was going to die! I asked him if he could help me get to the other side to refill the candy bowl, and we worked together to get through the maze. When he realized the lasers wouldn't hurt him, he kept getting in line to go through the maze again. His mom had to drag him home after an hour or two, and he was crying!

“Another little moment I really liked was when a fifth-grade girl explained polarization to her clueless classmates. We had the kids make polariscopes. When the girl offered her explanation as to why the polarizers behaved the way they did, it was so thorough and so awesome that I took a video. I keep the video on my photo so I can watch it when science is not going well.”

Guillermo Sanchez
Guillermo Sanchez is an SPIE member and PhD student in the Department of Mathematical Physics at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. He was involved with the pioneering of outreach events within his chapter, and he shared from is experience:

“I got involved in optics and photonics back in 2010, as a bachelor student with the student chapter at my university. I was involved as an officer. That year I assisted at my first optics and photonics event and fell in love with optics when meeting this awesome community. Our chapter organized the first ‘Optics 4 Kids’ event, with a few experiments. It was the first outreach event of its kind at our university!

“When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I continued my studies at my university and started to study optics with a solar illumination project, the first project in non-imaging optics in our facility.”

Kate Clancy
Kate Clancy is a biomedical engineer and biochemist from San Francisco, California, with a master’s degree from McGill University. She was heavily involved in the SPIE Student Chapter at McGill — she helped establish it! Her passion for educating others shines through in her story about the International Year of Light (IYL) event her chapter sponsored:

“At our event, our chapter partnered with the astronomy club to do long exposure photography of the stars, and also with sparklers while teaching about different light phenomena. It was a great moment to see students and the general public coming together and sharing their knowledge and ideas all the while having a good time playing with lights, cameras, and lasers and enjoying free snacks. We got some amazing photos from it and lots of good memories!”

For full stories, follow @SPIEphotonics on Instagram or check out the SPIE Students Facebook page and look for the #FacesofPhotonics tag.