International Day of Light “Light & Lilacs” in Rochester NY

International Day of Light “Light & Lilacs” in Rochester NY

By Nicholas Kochan, OSA Student Member, University of Rochester

As part of the International Day of Light, 16 May, a graduate student outreach committee with the University of Rochester, U.S.A., began exploring new ways to reach the Rochester, N.Y., community at large and celebrate light.  Specifically, we learned that the Rochester Lilac Festival 2019 ran 10-19 May during the time of the International Day of Light.  Through collaboration with festival organizers, we were able to tap into the festival audience. Our student committee developed, built and organized exhibits that complimented the festival experience.

The Rochester Lilac Festival attracts some 500,000 people each year to enjoy the lilacs of Rochester’s Highland Park, as well as the food and live music.  It is one of the largest free festivals in the Rochester area and many people come with an open mind to probably with no expectation to learn about science.  While viewing and smelling the flowers, as well as taking pictures of them, many visitors may not realize that smartphone cameras cannot capture the visual color of all natural pigments effectively, and that lighting in our environment affects the colors we see.  Inevitably, some color information is lost or modified when we take photographs.

With the park experience in mind, our graduate student committee was inspired to develop four color-science-based exhibits with the following themes:  thermal imaging to explore visual representations of thermal radiation; color rendering, to explore how ambient light affects perceived color; color matching and  smartphone-enabled microscopy.

These exhibits allowed people to see the role of light and optics in their daily lives, and in their experiences at the Lilac Festival. The exhibits also related the human experience of color to other experiences of color—for example, that bees see color in ultraviolet wavelengths.  For the materials we developed, we targeted a broad age range, from young children to elderly adults.

Graduate students prepared the exhibits over the course of a few months.  Planning was laid out such that students priced, bought parts for and built their exhibits via smaller subcommittees. A month before the Lilac Festival began, we came back together to unify the display layout and craft descriptions for the general public.  Graduate students coordinated more than 40 volunteers from the Rochester optics community to staff the exhibits and fill more than 100 volunteer work hours during the course of the festival.  Many of the volunteers came from U. of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology and Monroe Community College, with support from the OSA Rochester Local Section.

In working with such a large group of volunteers and the general public, the student organizers had learning experiences throughout the festival as well.  One volunteer came up with a tagline that drew many people into the tent: “Would you like to see a lilac under a microscope?” the sign read.  Another volunteer thought to shield the color-matching experiment in such a way as to reduce the impact of ambient light.  Festival goers all reacted differently to the exhibits.  Some were doubtful or skeptical.  One person simply did not believe he was looking at infrared light with a thermal camera and walked away.  Other visitors felt out of place in our open-ended demonstrations, apologizing for getting so involved with our exhibits!  We responded by simply welcoming people to interact with the exhibits in their own way—it  was all about exploration.  At times it was challenging bringing a scientific spin to an otherwise social event like the Lilac Festival. But in all it was great to spark fascination with light via the Rochester Lilac Festival and for the International Day of Light.

We are now reflecting on the success of the event so we can continuously improve and better reach new populations in Rochester.  We also are interested in more collaboration with industry partners in the area.  We hope we can grow our community engagement, and we look forward to celebrating IDL 2020 in Rochester!

This event was generously supported by the OSA Foundation and SPIE.




Caption: Festival goer explores a color rendering experiment, seeing the effect of mixed lighting on flowers and colored candies.

Credit: University of Rochester Student Chapter


Caption: Sultan Abdul Wadood (volunteer from University of Rochester, left), shows festival goers how a simple lens can enable a smartphone to take microscope images. 

Credit: University of Rochester Student Chapter




Caption: Joseph Tang (volunteer from University of Rochester), and Janet Hrdina (organizing committee, University of Rochester), left, explain the color exhibit to festival goers.

Credit: University of Rochester Student Chapter


Caption: Patrick Stefano and Adrian Cherney (left and center, volunteers from Monroe Community College), add their spin on the exhibit to festival goers.

Credit: University of Rochester Student Chapter




Posted: 30 May 2019 by Nicholas Kochan, OSA Student Member, University of Rochester | with 0 comments

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