high school, and we took the opportunity
to give them insight into university life.
Our talk focused on two areas of
and metamaterials. We hoped our fiber
optic demonstrations would awaken
a greater interest in and appreciation
of the wonders of technology. In the
metamaterials section, we discussed
fundamental science and relied on the
students’ logical thinking and imagination to engage with the novel concepts.
We were able to retain students’
attention by spacing our demonstrations
throughout the lectures and visually
displaying the ideas immediately after
they were discussed. First, we performed
the classic demonstration of total internal reflection, which we like to call the
“peeing bottle:” a laser beam confined
within a stream of water. Next, two students were asked to converse via a laser
telephone that encodes information
on two laser beams. This exercise was
developed by students at the Macquarie
University node of our research group,
CUDOS, which spans seven Australian Universities. Finally, we encoded
multiple music signals onto two colored
laser beams, transmitting these simultaneously and filtering out the individual
signals using cellophane sheets, thus
demonstrating wavelength division multiplexing. Building our presentation and
demonstrations up from total internal
reflection to signal multiplexing made it
easier for students to follow every step of
After the lecture, we spoke to the
students about research at CUDOS and
how it promises to shape the Internet of
the future—and what that means for
their download speeds. Demonstrations
of metamaterials were harder to find,
although in the future we may show
how butterflies create beautiful colors
by periodically arranging optical microstructures in their wings.
Calling via laser
with the students
made our long drives
most of the funding, with additional
support from the university and Lastek.
We strongly encourage other student
chapters to go beyond their own school
funding. If you have a great idea, people
will help you make it happen!
Outcomes and lessons learned
Our biggest challenge was getting a
response from the schools we contacted.
We wrote a proposal and sent it to each
of the schools, but only a few responded.
If we were to conduct another outreach
program, we’d send a proposal to all the
schools several months before the start
of the outreach activity, and make calls
within a couple of days of when the
schools received it.
We were encouraged by the interest and intellect of the over 450 high
school students. We were asked insightful questions about topics we had only
just introduced to them. Many students
approached us after the program to ask
us about life at university or even just
living in the city. As we traveled farther
west, there was a noticeable drop in science enrollment and we had to adjust our
talk accordingly, with a greater emphasis
on demonstrations. If enough of these
students decide to study physics in their
last two years of schooling, they will be
allocated a physics teacher, making their
study much more productive and appealing for future years. These discussions
made our long drives seem worthwhile.
Our trip was entirely self-funded and
free for schools and students. This left us
with a significant amount of money to
raise. We were delighted that everyone
we spoke to about this was enthusiastic
and willing to financially support the
program. Our research group CUDOS
and our OSA student chapter provided
Starting a similar program
Quality content is the most important
ingredient in any outreach activity. We
only talked about areas that we research
and are very comfortable with. The
presentations and demonstrations had
been crafted over several years to fit this
purpose, and we are in the process of
improving and updating all of them.
During the presentation, one of us gave
an introduction, while the other delivered a talk on fiber optics; then, the first
person covered metamaterials. It would
be just as easy to do this activity with
We found that a 40-minute talk with
a 10 to 15 minute interactive demonstration period worked best with the
students and fit in well to their class
schedule. We would not recommend longer sessions; you risk tiring the students
and interrupting their other classes.
The trip was very enjoyable and
satisfying. We cannot recommend the
concept of an outreach road trip highly
enough. To see more photos and a video
of the trip, please visit www.cudos.org.
au/education/ OpticsInOutback.shtml. t
Björn Sturmberg ( email@example.com.
edu.au) is a Ph.D. student at the University of
Sydney. Owen Brasier is a recent honors graduate from the same university.