Skip to main content

Pinhole cameras, build-your-own telescope kits teach students the fundamentals of optics

Nicole da Silva and Jailton Nunes make a self-portrait with a pinhole camera during
the Mão na Lata workshop. Photo by Fagner França, courtesy of Tatiana Altberg.

Science projects that utilize the field of optics – from pinhole cameras to build-your-own telescopes – are an accessible way for educators worldwide to engage students in science by teaching them basic concepts about light.

The New York Times Lens Blog recently highlighted one such project in Rio De Janeiro, called Mão na Lata (Hand in the Can), where photographer Tatiana Altberg has held pinhole photography workshops with local NGO Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré for the past 10 years to teach children the fundamentals of optics.

Mão na Lata melds classes on photography with literature, self-exploration and local narratives for young people in Maré, a Rio De Janiero favela. 

Ruan Torquato, left, uses a pinhole camera to take a photo in Lapa. Yasmin Lopes, 
right, takes a photo in Maré. Photos by Fagner França, courtesy of Tatiana Altberg.

Altberg originally planned to use pinhole cameras to teach photography fundamentals before moving on to traditional cameras. But she told the New York Times she realized the simplicity, low cost and slow process of using a pinhole camera made it an ideal teaching instrument.

The students use recycled cans to build the cameras. They are asked to create self-portraits, and because pinhole cameras rely on long exposure to capture an image, they are forced to be introspective, considering both their mood and the environment before putting in the effort to take a photograph. 

"The challenge of working with pinhole photography is to make the self-portrait a process of reflection about one’s self — a product of an intention," Altberg told the New York Times. "The idea is not to take photos in an automatic way, with poses and gestures that are seen in the pictures teenagers take with their cellphones and digital cameras. It’s necessary to pay attention to the surroundings and think before making an image. Pinhole is a slow process of creation that demands a lot of thought."

Build-your-own telescope kits

Telescope kits provided by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are also helping students in many parts of the world gain a better understanding of optics.

Beginning in 2009, in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the telescope, the nonprofit began distributing kits to SPIE student chapters and SPIE members around the world who were engaged in community outreach. 

The students and members receive a training booklet filled with activities as well as the telescope kits so they can host events at local schools. The hands-on activity helps young students understand the basic concepts of refraction and geometric optics.

More than 1,500 telescope kits have been given away to date. 

Students participate in a telescope workshop in 2013 at University of Pacific in
Stockton, California, as part of Expanding Your Horizons, a national program that
provides STEM role models and hands-on activities for middle and high school girls.
Photo courtesy Stacie Manuel, EYH volunteer

The build-your-own telescope kits help demonstrate basic optics principles through hands-on experience in constructing a 16X refracting telescope. While the telescope components are simple two cardboard tubes, some foam, plastic end caps, and two small plano-convex plastic lenses the telescopes they create are surprisingly effective.

"Building a telescope is an excellent and very accessible way to teach the principles of optics, and to help draw awareness to optics and photonics technologies," says Barbara Darnell, Chair of the SPIE Education Committee. SPIE is committed "to introducing students to career possibilities in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics and to inspiring and informing the next generation of problem-solvers, inventors, and creators of better ways of living."

 The SPIE Student Chapter at University of Texas-Austin hosted a "Fun with Optics" event
in 2009 using the telescope kits to explore properties of light with local students.


Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Inspired

Guest blogger: Emily Power is a Winter Quarter graduate in communications from Western Washington University, and most recently social media intern for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. She is blogging on responses to the SPIE #FacesofPhotonics campaign, to share the stories of SPIE students around the globe.
It is a commonly known fact: students are the future. Around the world, students with ideas, opinions, and innovative minds are preparing for their opportunities to conceptualize and create the next advances for the ever-changing world in which we live.
In the field of optics and photonics, students are making a difference even now, sharing their work and building their networks through conferences such as SPIE Photonics West, coming up next month in San Francisco.
The SPIE campaign #FacesofPhotonics was developed as a showcase across social media to connect students from SPIE Student Chapters around the world, highlighting similarities, celebrating differ…

Grilling robot takes over backyard barbecue

Photonics has already made profound contributions to such areas as medicine, energy, and communications to make our everyday lives more efficient. (Hence the name of this blog.) People in all walks of life benefit from the incorporation of photonics technologies. We look forward to future advancements when the technology may help find a cure for cancer, monitor and prevent climate change, and pave the way to other advancements we can’t even visualize yet.
But here’s a photonics-based invention -- already demonstrated – that breaks ground in a new area: the backyard barbecue. Talk about hot fun in the summertime!
The BratWurst Bot made its appearance at the Stallwächter-Party of the Baden-Württemberg State Representation in Berlin. It’s made of off-the-shelf robotic components such as the lightweight Universal Robots arm UR-10, a standard parallel gripper (Schunk PG-70) and standard grill tongs. A tablet-based chef’s face interacted with party guests.
Two RGB cameras and a segmentatio…

UPDATE! Gravitational waves ... detected!

Update, 11 February: A hundred years after Einstein predicted them, gravitational waves from a cataclysmic event a billion years ago have been observed.
For the first time, scientists have observed gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window to the cosmos.
The discovery was announced on 11 February at a press conference in Washington, DC, hosted by the National Science Foundation, the primary funder of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
The gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
The event took place on 14 September 2015 at 5:51 a.m. EDT (09:51 UTC) by both of…