February 24, 2016: Light, Photonics and Fun!

What a treat to have industry professionals and Stanford graduate students from the Silicon Valley Chapter of IEEE’s Women in Photonics serve as role models for our Make-HER girls. This multidisciplinary group of women introduced principles of light and optics through hands-on activites, experiments and even an outdoor lab with a telescope and light-up frisbee play. It was inspiring to see mothers and daughters grasping these complex concepts and having fun in the process.

Teaching team lead Sri Priya Sundararajan summarizes both the experiments and the science behind them as follows.

Total Internal Reflection: Optical medical imaging and telecommunications experts Shalini Venkatesh and Juthika Basak explained the basic principles of total internal reflection. Using a squiggly perspex tube and a laser pointer and prism, girls learned that when light travels from an optically denser to optically less dense medium, the light ray can be trapped and guided in the denser medium. Shalini and Juthika demonstrated how light from a flashlight beneath can be guided through plastic optical fibers forming a peacock’s tail, and how filter paper can be used to change its color. Using an optical fiber test instrument, they explained how information can be encoded onto an optical fiber by turning the incident laser light on and off.

Reflection and Diffraction: High school physics teacher and astronomer Val Monticue illustrated spectroscopy, 3D perception and diffraction simultaneously with an elegant gas lamp experiment. When tubes filled with gaseous elements such as Mercury and Neon, were viewed with brightly colored diffractive grating glasses, the elemental lines floated in front of the girls, close enough to touch!  Simple mirror mazes demonstrated how the fact that light travels in straight lines can be utilized to relay images. Light sources and curved mirrors allowed them to understand how red, green and blue light mixes to form white light and how curved mirrors can magnify and turn images upside down. Stanford Ph.D. student Fariah Hayee demonstrated diffraction patterns as formed when lasers illuminate a photonic crystal formed of dielectric nanobeads.

Refraction: Hewlett Packard research scientist Janet Chen and Stanford graduate students Michelle and Alice demonstrated how lenses can be used to magnify tiny print on a map and how convex and concave lenses bend light in different ways, through the use of a Light Blox kit from Laser Classroom. In addition, using flower topped glass rods and mineral as well as baby oil, Michelle and Alice demonstrated concepts of index matching and that science fiction staple, invisibility. Outside, long time astronomy enthusiast Sri Priya Sundararajan demonstrated how refraction and lens trains can be used with a telescope to glimpse distant stars up close.

Visual Perception: Acupressure practitioner and computer scientist Aline Prentice and Stanford graduate student Alex, demonstrated the weird and wonderful effects that result when spinning tops, monsters and buildings and artfully placed lines intersect with human eyesight. Using a series of fun demonstrations drawn from the Thames and Kosmos Optical Science kits, we were able to bring the heart of the Exploratorium’s Optical Illusions exhibits to Sunnyvale library, if just for an evening.

We thank all of the scientists, engineers, and educators from Silicon Valley Women in Photonics who so generously shared their time and their expertise with the Make-HER program.







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