Students present optics activities at local science museum

Rachel Kelly and Owen Farchione stand ready to present the
Rachel Kelly and Owen Farchione stand ready to present the refraction and reflection of light workshop.

On Saturday, May 7th, Cornell students presented optics-themed activities to the public at the Sciencenter, a hands-on children's museum located in Ithaca, New York. 

The “Magic of Optics!” activities were organized as part of a module on science communication in Meinig School associate professor Steven Adie’s Modern Biomedical Microscopy (BME 6320) course, which covers current trends in the development of novel microscopy techniques for imaging cells and tissues. 

Supported by a 5-yr National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award granted to Adie in collaboration with Kathy Dimiduk, director of Cornell’s James McCormick Family Engineering Teaching Excellence Institute, the module was a partnership with the Sciencenter that incorporated three training workshops and one “face the public” workshop aimed at training students on how to connect with a general audience.

Presenting the fluorescence of household items workshop
Fluorescence of household items workshop ready to go.

In the first workshop, students focused on informal science education and activity exploration. The second session focused on facilitation strategies, and the third on getting feedback on activity design from Sciencenter Education Program Coordinators Peter Leipzig and Alyssa Johnson, Kathy Dimiduk and Adie. The module culminated with students running the activities in person with visitors as part of the Science Connections programming the Sciencenter holds on Saturdays.

“The main goal of the module,” said Adie, “is to get the public excited about optics and imaging, and to help people of different ages without a technical background learn something about optics concepts. From the students’ perspective, this trains them to communicate about optics and imaging concepts at different levels, to enable them to connect with both technical and non-technical audiences.”

“It's wonderful to have a program that connects scientists in our community with Sciencenter visitors,” said Sciencenter education program coordinator Peter Leipzig. “The students have an opportunity to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the public, while also building their science communication skills.”

Student presenter Melia Matthews agreed: “So much of science is communicating your work to different audiences, and having time set aside in a class to get training on communication techniques and then having the chance to translate that training in the community was a really beneficial experience. I look forward to volunteering at the Sciencenter again!”

Meinig School student presenters included Owen Farchione, Jessica Hastings, Chiemezue Ijomanta, Rachel Lauren Kelly, Yiqiu Ma, Melia Matthews, Charby Ortega De Maio, Isabella Renee Posey, and Zhaohong Wang. 

Activity topics presented included:

  • Making household items (honey, detergent, and olive oil) fluoresce using laser and black lights.
  • Color-changing beads. Participants make a bracelet using normal and color-changing beads. Color-changing beads, initially white, become purple or blue when UV light applied is applied.
  • Refraction and reflection of light: watch laser light undergoing ‘total internal reflection’ from a liquid-air interface, and see how a straight glass rod can be made to look bent by immersing it into a liquid; reverse images: reversing doodles using a cup of water and the bending of light beams.

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