NWU-OSA Student Outreach

The NWU-OSA Student Chapter has initiated a program with local high schools in order to foster interest in optics and related sciences. By visiting high schools and giving hands-on demonstrations of optical devices and phenomena we hope to encourage youths to consider the field of optics as a professional career.


NWU-OSA has developed several simple demonstrations to show how optics plays a role in everyday life. Using He-Ne lasers and optical fibers, we show the usefulness of optical fibers in carrying signals. We explain the fundamentals of interference, holography, compact disk players, data storage, Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), total internal reflection, Rayleigh scattering, and related optics in simple demonstrations that are inexpensive and easy to construct. Most demos are hands-on, which allows the students to explore at their own pace.

We have developed a set of experiments in the fish tank. Many of the experiments were inspired by the Optics Classroom Discovery Kit which is provided by OSA.

In the spring of 1995, Several NWU-OSA members trekked to Evanston Township High School (ETHS) to give our demonstration to two Jr.-level physics classes. The demonstrations consisted of about 20 minutes of discussion with overheads and visual demonstrations followed by a 30 minute hands-on question and answer session. The students were most impressed with the laser and fiber optics demos. During the discussion, we encouraged student participation wherever possible stressing the importance of optics in everyday life. We will continue our outreach program at ETHS and other local high schools.

In the spring of 1996, we travelled to a Chicago elementary school over two days and gave hands-on demonstrations to the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes. These demonstrations were nearly completely based upon the OSA Classroom Discovery Kit, which has enough materials to handle up to 25 students at a time. We left one kit with the school, in hopes that the teachers would continue these demonstrations in the future. By giving the demonstrations with the teacher present, we hope to encourage them to follow suit, and enhance our demonstrations with their own additions.

Additionally, we attended a Science Fair where we set up jello waveguides, the optics in the fishtank experiments (which we enhanced by creating a steady stream of water using a fish tank pump to move water into a tank that had a 1/4 inch hole cut near its bottom. The stream was used to demonstrate waveguiding principles, and the pump/tank configuration fascinates the students!), interference demonstrations using an overhead projector and ruled gratings on transparencies, as well as many of the experiments mentioned earlier. Science Fairs are a good way to promote optics without the work of lecturing! And much more interactive!

To further develop our presentation skills, we give this demonstration to the incoming freshman class every fall. In fall `95 we addressed over 75 students in groups of 10 to 15 with a shortened version of our classroom demo. This is an excellent way to instill interest in optics in the freshman class!

Further Information

For information on how you can set up your own demonstrations, please contact Jay Sharping. In addition, check out the back issues of Optics and Photonics News, which has simpler and elaborate demos in each issue!
NWU-OSA Return to NWU-OSA Home Page.
October, 1996