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International Day of Light in Action: University of Southampton and Stellenbosch University

As we have heard from countless members of the optics and photonics community, raising awareness of optics among the public and sparking interest in students at a young age are crucial to the future of light-based technology.

Each year, SPIE provides International Day of Light (IDL) Micro Grants to SPIE Members who want to celebrate the importance of light and share that knowledge with their community. These activities must take place during the month of May, tying directly to the cross-global festivities held on the 16th of that month. You can learn more about our Micro Grant program here.

With less than two weeks until the 2019 IDL, we are revisiting some of the 2018 IDL SPIE Micro Grant winners from around the world, showcasing their celebrations of light and its impact. The University of Southampton in England and Stellenbosch University in South Africa both took the approach of "good things come in threes!" for their Micro Grant activities. Read on to see what they accomplished.

University of Southampton

SPIE Members Angeles Camacho-Rosales and Callum Stirling, of the The Optics and Photonics Society (OPSoc) at the University of Southampton -- which combines the student chapters of SPIE, The Optical Society, and IEEE Photonics Society -- led the university's first annual IDL showcase. The group used their Micro Grant to host a series of events not only to educate primary school students and the public, but also to show how art complements science, an approach commonly referred to as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

BRIGHT MINDS: A display showcasing the artwork created by primary
school students in the IDL art competition

The first event, an art competition, was run by outreach officers of the OPSoc group ahead of IDL's May 16th official date. They began the competition with an interactive class at a local secondary school where light phenomena was explained, and the students were asked to create a piece of art to illustrate the concepts they learned. These pieces were then judged based on scientific understanding and creativity, and then the winners were featured in a video, seen here

FULL STEAM AHEAD: Top winners of the art competition

The second event took place on the
 International Day of Light itself. OPSoc officers went into a local school and taught students how to perform their own outreach in the community. During the day, students learned how to conduct three interactive workshops, "Mobile Ghosts", "Hour in the Life of a Light Scientist", and "Guess the Gas." The day concluded -- as any exciting photonics-focused outreach should -- with an award-winning laser light show!

MY LITTLE 3-D PROJECTOR: Demonstration of the Mobile Ghosts activity
using a tablet, a sheet of acetate, and a pyramidal 3-D projector

For the last IDL event, OPSoc leaders gathered with the public on May 17th to discuss applications of light-based science and technology in the arts, education, industry, and research, organizing a panel, poster session, and buffet-style networking reception.

If you want to read more about the incredible series of events that the University of Southampton students pulled off, you can read their open-access Micro Grant report in the SPIE Digital Library.

SPECTATOR'S SPORT: A student using a spectrometer in the
Guess the Gas workshop.

Stellenbosch University 

With the help of their SPIE IDL Micro Grant, Stellenbosch University hosted more than 100 people and organized three activities on May 16th. The day included interactive, light-based demonstrations, a high school visit, and lab tours of the university's Laser Research Institute. 

LIGHT IN SPACE: The Optics Open Day venue had light-based demonstrations all around the room!

The first activity was Optics Open Day, and attendees were invited to watch a series of light-based demonstrations by postgraduate students from the Stellenbosch University SPIE Student Chapter. One especially popular demo was the plasma ball, which holds fluorescent gas that makes voltage breakdown clearly visible. Other demos included a digital microscope, laser engraving station, an optical laser chess game, and prism spectrometers.

PLASMA, PLEASE!: The plasma ball demonstration was
a real crowd pleaser!

Optics Open Day concluded with a public lecture by Professor Andrew Forbes of Witwatersrand University. Professor Forbes' talk was titled "Quirky Quantum Light." He discussed the counter-intuitiveness of quantum behavior and showcased just a few of the many ways in which scientists have managed to harness photons for various applications over the years. 

HARNESSING TALENT: Professor Andrew Forbes discussing quantum light

The Stellenbosch University Student Chapter also hosted 25 students from local high schools for a day of engaging and educational hands-on optics activities and lectures. Stellenbosch's Faculty of Science Recruitment and Marketing Office educated the students on how to study science at a tertiary level, and chapter members helped the high-schoolers build their own spectroscopes using  paper and a CD. All the students received SPIE diffraction glasses to take home with them at the end of the day.

GOOD, HANDS-ON OPTICS: High-school students peruse the multiple stations of optics activities

Of course, the Day of Light wouldn't be complete without some fun in the lab. Members of the student chapter walked the high-school students through the Laser Research Institute, showing them what physics research looks like in the lab. Postgraduate students were on hand to answer questions and demonstrated various optic and photonic concepts in action, including ion-trapping, microscopy, and optical tweezers.

PHOTONIC ACTION: George, a PhD student at Stellenbosch, shows students on the lab tour how he uses
photonics in microscopy

EYE-SPY: Dr. Charles Rigby, Stellenbosch SPIE Student Chapter alum, shows the students the ion-trapping lab


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