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Real life applications of photonics showcased at Lancaster University’s Community Day

On Saturday, 6th May, ESRs Eva and Denise promoted the real-life applications of photonics at Lancaster University’s Community Day.

The event, which was attended by around 2000 people of all ages, showcased current research in diverse subject areas through a host of interactive activities.

The PROMIS International Training Network (ITN), funded by the Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie Action of the European Horizon 2020 program, aims to train 16 postgraduate researchers in a full range of multidisciplinary skills needed by the rapidly expanding Photonics industry. Our Community Day activities attracted a lot of interest from a wide audience who were keen to learn about different aspects of solar power and infra-red light. The activities included demonstrating how different filters affect the running of a solar-powered windmill and discovering an infra-red smiley face on what appeared to be a plain black box. Visitors were also encouraged to test their knowledge of Photonics in the PROMIS Quiz and unwrap interesting facts through the “fruit sweets of knowledge”…which proved particularly popular with our younger audience!

A fun day of Outreach with children and families (by ESRs Eva and Denise)

At 10h, we were already at Uni getting everything ready for moving the experiments to the stand. An energetic Eva and a sleepy Denise arrived to the stand full of enthusiasm for the day! On the way to the building we saw food stands, playing areas in the outside and even a big wheel. Our first thought was “with all these cool things around campus nobody is going to come to learn some physics...” But we were wrong. Around 11h some curious people started to pop around our stand to find out more about our activites: colourful sweets and related fun facts, a quiz for all the family, videos from the work packages and two experiments: “Make a windmill run with solar energy” and “Can you see the invisible infrared light”?

Both of us were involved in attracting people to the activities on the stand to explain all that we could to interested people. But by the middle of the day we realized each of us was more involved in the experiment based in our PhD topic and we started being slightly competitive to see who could make their experiment look more cool.

The children were really enthusiastic with the sweets taking even more than one to learn fun facts such as:

  • Did you know that bees can see ultra-violet light and goldfish can see infrared?
  • Did you know that the sunlight falling on the earth produces enough energy in 1 hour to provide all our energy needs for 1 year?

After taking few facts, they saw the windmill moving and ran to the experiment with curious faces. Denise started the demonstration and asked some questions to engage their attention: “Do you know how does a solar cell works or what it is?” and “What do you think is going to happen when I apply red/black filter?” I was grateful that most of them knew that solar cell generates electricity and some got that the filters would slow down the windmill!

Groups of teenagers and couples were more attracted by the quiz; it was the best opportunity to be competitive and see who got the most answers right (why not test yourself? The answers at the bottom of the page)

  1. How long does it take for light from the Sun to reach the earth? (a) 8 second, (b) 8 minutes, (c) 8 years
  2. Infrared light was discovered by astronomer Sir William Herschel in which year? (a) 1700, (b) 1800, (c) 1900

The infrared smiley face was an impressive experiment for quite a lot of people, with children shouting “Wow, that’s so cool!! How have you done it!!?” to adults saying “you must have modified the camera, how does this works??” Nevertheless, attracting people with a black box inside another black box is less easy than it sounds. So Eva went from standing next to the box asking “Do you want to see infrared light” to wandering around with the box in her hand tackling people with “Do you want to see my secret message?”….this was the trick that worked!

In short, at the end of the day we almost had lost our voices but we improved lots our outreach skills, we had lots of fun interacting with people and most importantly, we think we have let one or two of them thinking that physics is not as boring and hard as they might have otherwise thought.

Quiz answers:

1. (b)

2. (c)

Mon 19 June 2017