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Light is so Illuminating!

Children and adolescents get to know a key technology: photonics

Why is the sky blue? Why do people have shadows? Children and young adults are being given a chance to explore the answers to these and many other questions as part of an EU Outreach project called Photonics4All. The idea is to get to know the fascinating world of light. Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ) and project partners from nine countries have been organizing children’s universities in Baden-Württemberg, Austria, Sweden, and the UK.

Photonics are considered one of the most important new industries of the future and is a key technology in Europe. To make the technical uses of light more accessible to a broader audience – especially children, young adults, startups, and SMEs – an alliance has been formed as part of an EU project called Photonics4All under the patronage of SEZ. The project spans 10 partner organizations in nine European countries. The partners in Germany are OptecNet Germany and Photonics Baden-Wurttemberg. To add appeal to the technological capabilities of photonics for the younger audience, the project teams wrote a quiz, shot a video, and created an app.

The video was produced especially for the target group of children and adolescents to pique their curiosity and raise interest. 2015 was the International Year of Light and SEZ and its partners were already involved in a variety of events revolving around the topic, also organizing special activities such as two children’s universities, the first ever “Photonics Boot Camp” in Vienna, and an exhibition at the 2015 ICT Convention in Lisbon. A first photonics science slam was attended by around 100 young adults at the Baden-Wurttemberg Foundation in Stuttgart. Further science slams were also organized as national events by the project partner OptecNet Germany, one of its members Photonik BW, and the Baden-Wurttemberg Foundation. In January 2016, a quiz was launched, plus an app that leads children and young people through the world of light. The Photonics Explorer toolkit of EYEST vzw was used at six different children’s universities in four countries as well as in 35 teacher training workshops. The target group of the toolkits was children aged between 7 and 15.

In the summer of 2015, some 250 children attended the children’s university at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). During the event, they learned about the origins of light and the theory behind light, also discovering how to measure light, how to make your own spectrometer, how people perceive colors, and how shadows are created. SEZ helped organize the children’s university in Karlsruhe for a second time in August 2016, staging a two-day photonic booth at the event that again turned the spotlight on light technology. Apart from showing children how to make a “spectrometer to go,” there was also a chance to see a Galileo telescope, make optical gratings, and participate in experiments into light transmission, the speed of light, and light filtering. More children’s universities were organized in Austria in 2015 and 2016, and they also took place in Sweden and the UK in 2016. In England, a campaign was launched in Southampton with the support of 30 schools to coincide with the International Year of Light. This allowed entire classes to get involved in experiments. In total, about 3,800 children took part in Photonics4All children’s university. There were also 35 one-day training sessions for teachers in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, and Slovakia, with the aim of heightening awareness for photonics. Participants were made familiar with the teaching materials and provided with plenty of inspiration for their own lessons.

The results of an evaluation of all events and activities were interesting. A variety of respondents were questioned about the things they had learned, what was new to them, and how they felt about topics like physics and science. It was found that experiments and workshops had made people feel more positive about physics and photonics. When asked, “Would you recommend to your child/a friend that they study physics?” after attending an event, respondents were significantly more likely to answer “Yes.” The project and the public activities were thus considered an all-round success!