Pratt Students Demonstrate Light and Optics for Cary Elementary School

January 1, 2005

Five Pratt School of Engineering graduate students demonstrated light and optics for a third grade class during “Science Day” at Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary, N.C. on Jan. 26. It was part of the outreach program of the Duke Chapter of the Optical Society of America.

The Duke students, all part of Professor David Brady’s Computational Optical Sensor research group in the Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics, were Evan Cull, Mohan Shankar, Scott McCain, Cristina Fernandez and Andrew Portnoy.

The students conducted three sessions, starting off with a brief introduction to light and its properties followed by an overview of where light is used and how it is used in various applications. Colorful images of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Aurora Borealis, and the diffractive optics within the wing of a butterfly kept the Weatherstone students intrigued about the possibilities of using light.

The presentation was interrupted by many questions from curious minds such as “Why does the rainbow go in a circle?”, “Why does light travel straight?”, and “How does a light bulb make light?”.

Light traveling in a straight line was demonstrated through the scattered light of a laser beam through fog. “Ooohs” and “aahs” were heard when a laser beam from a laser pointer was made to bend through water that was pouring out of the side of a 2 liter bottle, illustrating the concept of total internal reflection, similar to how light is guided through glass fibers in optical communication systems. The youngsters got involved by forming images with lenses, building microscopes and telescopes, and seeing 3-D dinosaurs in holograms, all done with materials in Optics Discovery Kits provided by the Optical Society of America.

“It was a wonderful experience and we received a positive response from the teachers and students in the school,” McCain said. “We will be looking forward to taking these demonstrations to other schools in the area. We hope through these outreach projects we can motivate the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.”