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Vrije Universiteit Brussel Shines the Light

Guest blogger: Sidney Goossens is a PhD student and past president of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel SPIE Student Chapter in 2017.

Last year was an eventful one for the SPIE student chapter of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) as BA, MA and PhD candidates celebrated its 10th anniversary with a special edition of Light Night, a yearly photonics event showcasing an international range of speakers from across academia and industry.

The early years

The chapter was founded in 2007 by former chapter President Jürgen Van Erps, Vice President Nathalie Vermeulen and advisor professor Hugo Thienpont. From 2008 onward, networking activities and job-related events were frequently organized with the support of the SPIE invited-lecturer program, offering students various opportunities to discover the industry’s world of photonics. As the popularity of the events grew and attendance increased, many events were combined into the annual Light Night, which launched officially in 2014.

The chapter also engages with the wider SPIE community, participating and contributing to the European Innovation Village and career events at Photonics Europe in Strasbourg and Brussels. Outreach remains a key focus of our chapter’s agenda.

Current and past VUB chapter presidents smile for the camera in celebration of their chapter's 10th anniversary

The current chapter

With the support of Thienpont and of the Brussels Photonics research group B-PHOT, the VUB chapter became what it is today – the largest student chapter in Europe, with over 50 student members.

In 2016, we broadened our outreach by supporting the Photonics Science Show, an activity organized by B-PHOT. The Photonics Science Show is a spectacular event that gives young minds insight into the potential of science and engineering in an entertaining way; that 2016 event welcomed more than 1,500 secondary school students in two days!

Recently, B-PHOT was invited by UNESCO to host their Science Show during the kick-off event of the International Day of Light, on 16 May, 2018; we’re pleased that our student chapter helped to support and develop such a fantastic event, and we wish them the best of luck in Paris!

The big event

Students explore the world of mixed reality via HoloLens
The pinnacle of the 10th year of our student chapter was the special edition of Light Night last April. The event was both a celebration of our chapter’s first decade, as well as a look to the photonics of the future. The “Photonics: Spotlight on the Future” topic enticed an inquisitive group of students, post-doctoral researchers, professors, and alumni, making it the most successful VUB event of the chapter thus far.

Thienpont opened the event with his “Spotlight on Photonics in 2050” talk. The second speaker was Dr. Marc Himel, business development manager at Jenoptik, while Dr. Bernard Kress, optical architect at Microsoft’s HoloLens project, rounded out the evening, including opportunities for everyone to experience the HoloLens headset.

Dr. Bernard Kress talks mixed reality and its applications

The most remarkable part of the evening was the reunion of the past chapter presidents. They were asked to share their most memorable moments, and how the chapter helped them in their professional lives. 

The following video features their take-away messages and experiences.


Our 2017 Light Night demonstrates how a student chapter can make a difference. We will continue to act as a bridge between university, industry and society, introducing novel perspectives on how photonics can contribute to solving many of the critical challenges we face today. 

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