The Art of Optics Outreach

The Art of Optics Outreach

By Danuta Sampson, 2017 OSA Ambassador, Australia


Science outreach is fun, not only for the participants, but also for the educators as well. Science draws out our curiosity and we all have natural curiosity. When you design and conduct an outreach event, you have to think carefully about how to turn science, optics for example, into something interesting and understandable for others; making it a good test of how well you know a topic.

At an outreach event, sometimes you lead a team of people and at other times you follow a leader. It teaches you how to be a good leader as well as a good team member and these skills are highly important for your career and in other areas of your life.

When you are able to participating in an outreach event, it can be a very rewarding experience. You get to see the big smiles, the enthusiasm, and the joy that you cannot help but smile yourself. It makes it all worth it when you receive thanks at the end of the event and it makes you believe that what you do is important, valued, and worth continuing.

Here is my story:

Over the past eight years, I have been very fortunate to be an active member of The Optical Society (OSA). I have served as a committee member for several international student conferences, reviewed articles, and accepted invitations to write articles and blogs in the field of science popularization (e.g. Bohr Heisenberg and the atomic bomb and Reflection on an Optics Education).     

All of these activities have helped me to improve my scientific and leadership skills. What I have found to be the most valuable aspect of my relationship with the OSA, however, is the full-support given to me in my outreach activities; activities in which I try to do my best to bridge the gap between academia and the public and to inspire young scientists.

My outreach adventure began in 2009, after I established the Nicolaus Copernicus University Student Chapter of the Optical Society (The NCU OSA Student Chapter) in Torun, Poland. Since then, I have been involved in many outreach programs aimed at raising the public’s interest in optics. 

The NCU OSA Student Chapter in Jan Brzechwa Kindergarten, 2011.

Some of the outreach activities I have been proud to be a part of happened between 2009-2011. My friends and I ran a program called “Back to School” where the goal of the program was to provide country school students with an interesting educational show.

In the program, we demonstrated, among other things, the power of the Optics Suitcase. We visited 16 schools in total, and more than 2,200 students participated in our events. In 2011, we initiated a national contest called “The Art of Seeing” which aimed to design optics tools to support the education and development of children with vision impairment in Poland. We received 43 projects and it was very difficult to make a final decision of which one is the best. Eventually, the first prize went to Adrian Kepka, Michal Pelka and Jan Szczepanek, students of Warsaw University of Technology for a toy called ColorMEMO. 

The NCU OSA Student Chapter playing with the toys submitted for the Art of Seeing competition.

My outreach work has not stopped since graduating either. In 2015, after beginning my postdoctoral fellowship at the Lions Eye Institute and The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, I initiated The University of Western Australia Student Chapter of the Optical Society (The UWA OSA Student Chapter) and became the chapter’s outreach advisor; continuing my passion for raising the public’s interest in optics. Since then, our chapter has organized many outreach events for the local community. For example, in 2015 we initiated LightTALKS: a lecture series where scientists and artists talk about optics. The same year, our chapter organized an outdoor event: Lasers Can Do Anything, an exciting public show with fun demonstrations of the power of lasers and their wide-spread use in the most varied fields, presented by Emeritus Professor Hans A Bachor and Patrick Helean. Their show intrigued over 180 people of all ages under a warm starry sky and was so popular that we had to organize a repeat event the following day, which also sold out! In 2016, we organized the “Careers in Optics Sundowner” for the students interested in careers in science, outreach or wondering how to improve their skills to help find their future dream job. We also ran a public outreach event: “How safe is my green laser pointer?” to raise awareness amongst members of the local community about the dangers of low-cost green laser pointers.

The UWA OSA Student Chapter with Kishan Dholakia during Careers in Optics Sundowner.

The excitement has not stopped in 2017! The International Conference on Biophotonics (ICOB) was recently held in Perth where world-leading experts in advancing Biophotonic devices and technologies came to discuss new developments in the field. The OSA Student Chapter was invited to design and execute a special event for high school students at the conference to highlight the importance of STEM and how it connected to Biophotonics. We provided students with hands on activities and the opportunity to talk to scientists and senior science communicators including: Dr Stephen Robinson (former NASA astronaut), Professor Lyn Beazley, Sir Walter Murdoch (Distinguished Professor of Science, Murdoch University) and Dr Chris Smith (founder of The Naked Scientist radio broadcast). We aimed to give young people a bit of fun but also to provide them with an insight into “a real scientific world” and the participants really loved it!

ICOB outreach activity for Perth high school students.     ICOB event volunteers.

Conclusion:

Science outreach is my passion; it enables me to challenge myself to be better at communicating my research to a wider community. It has given me the opportunity to work with, learn from, and teach wonderful people from around the world who have become my friends. Doing outreach has been a wonderful journey bringing me happiness and inspiration every day that I hope you will participate in a local outreach event near you at least once!

Advice?

Dream big! Never give up and always keep trying. Believe in yourself because good things happen when you do. The beginning is usually the hardest, but you will get there. Respect and appreciate others. Learn how to be a good leader and a good team member at the same time; it is possible. Challenge yourself! Stay positive and spread the word on optics. Good luck!

Acknowledgment:

All these outreach achievements have been made possible through the excellent training in leadership and science I have received from my mentors and teachers: Professors Andrzej Kowalczyk, Piotr Targowski, Maciej Wojtkowski, and Dr Iwona Gorczynska from the Nicolaus Copernicus University and Prof. David Mackey and Dr Fred Chen from the Lions Eye Institute and The University of Western Australia, as well as support, enthusiasm, creativity and inspiration members of the OSA student chapters I have been involved in over the last 8 years.

The NCU OSA Student Chapter, Torun, Poland: Ewa Kaszewska, Szymon Tamborski, Karol Karnowski, Anna Szkulmowska, Michalina Gora, Daniel Ruminski, Sylwia Kolenderska, Krzysztof Maliszewski, Karolina Slowik, Agnieszka Gorska-Pukownik, Justyna Cembrzynska, Anna Grembowska, Marta Pelc, Adam Buksztel, Jakub Korocinski, Bartosz Palucki, Łukasz Syrocki, Marcin Sylwestrzak, Daniel Szlag, Rafal Pukownik, Krzysztof Szulzycki, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, and Bartosz Krajnik.

The UWA OSA Student Chapter, Perth, Australia: Andrea Curatolo, Philip Wijesinghe, Wes Allen, Imtiaz Madni, Karol Karnowski, David Gozzard, Jiawen Li, Gavrielle Untracht, Peijun Gong, Anthony Phan, Qingyun Li, Diane Nguyen, Kelly MacKinnon, Skevos Karpathakis, Renee Kenny, Ellen Dowley, James Dingley, and David Sampson.

Why is it worth playing with optics with young adults and children after hours ? – to get your priceless reward:

“Dear Andrea and Danuta, a Big Thanks for your very interesting and inspiring talks last night on Light which was enjoyed by all who attended. We greatly appreciate the considerable time you spent with your informative quality presentation and sharing your expertise with our members, guests, and visitors. Sincerely, Greg” – organizer of The Royal Society of Western Australia monthly talks.

“Dear Danka and Andrea, thank you for your excellent overview of the applications for light in today’s world. You worked well together, congratulations! Best regards, Christine” – attendee at a public lecture for The University of Western Australia Research Week.

“My experience with Danka as a mentor was an incredibly positive one. She was very supportive of me and always encouraged me to try my best as I navigated through new terminology and ideas about how to best present and communicate my project. When I did the World Biotech Tour I was in year 12 and she was very accommodating whenever we tried to organize times to meet up. I am very grateful that I got to meet and have her as my mentor because she helped me to grow and develop new skills as well as sat through my many puns.” - from Shiya who won a local competition of the Biotechnology World Tour for her outstanding research work and will represent Australia at the Science Centre World Summit, Tokyo, Japan in 2017.

“Thanks to all the UWA OSA student chapter members and Danka in particular, for having created something fun and valuable in Perth for the young and upcoming optics and photonics community, through professional development and scientific outreach efforts,” – from an acknowledgement section of Andrea’s PhD thesis.

About the author:
Danuta (Danka) Sampson (nee Bukowska) is a Research Fellow currently based at the Lions Eye Institute and the University of Western Australia. She joined these institutions in October 2014 bringing with her expertise in optics, optical microscopy, and image processing. She acquired this expertise during her PhD at the Nicolaus Copernicus University (NCU) in Torun, Poland in the Optical Biomedical Imaging Group (OBIG). Her research focuses on developing hardware and software methodologies for visualization and assessment of the structure and function of the human retina. Beyond research, she has been involved in many outreach programs aimed at raising general public interest in physics. Recently, she has been selected to serve as Optical Society (OSA) Ambassador for 2017. This lifetime distinction recognizes OSA Young Professionals for their continuing efforts to serve the greater optics and photonics community.

Posted: 30 May 2017 by Danuta Sampson, 2017 OSA Ambassador, Australia | with 0 comments