Modern mobile laboratory brings the study of light to school

CEFOPs scientists present “Fotones al Colegio” (Photons at School), an experience that brings optics to students across the Bio Bio region.

Is light a wave or a particle? A question usually heard in classrooms all around, but just a few have the opportunity to experimentally test the answer. Studying the light through such amazing experiences is the aim of “Fotones al Colegio”, activity prepared for students from the 7th grade and higher to understand the behavior of light and its dual nature of wave and particle.

Trough this outreach activity, scientists from the Millennium Nucleus Advanced Optics, members also of the Center for Optics and Photonics (CEFOP) of the University of Concepción, are looking to help Physics teachers strengthen the study of this subject. The activity has visited eight schools in Concepción so far, and is expected to reach other cities in the incoming months, thanks to funding from the Millennium Science Initiative for extension of scientific activity to the external environment.

This mobile laboratory allows young people approach a subject that is usually only studied theoretically. It consists of a set of activities, which with simple elements allows students understand phenomena such as diffraction, interference and light polarization, to finally approach a portable optical table, where they can follow the paths of light particles. “We want the students be able to know the work done by researchers in CEFOP, in an unprecedented nationwide activity,” said Dr. Gustavo Lima, developer of the mobile lab.

Five monitors, three of them PhD students, guide teachers and students through the activities for nearly an hour. Dr. Aldo Delgado, CEFOP’s researcher and project manager emphasizes its impact: “The boys remain attentive throughout the experience, regardless of whether or not they have seen this content in class. This experience encourages them to do further research”. During this year is expected to visit at least 15 municipal and subsidized private schools, which would reach about 900 students.

“Fotones al colegio” began with its visits in late September, in a high school called Liceo La Asunción of Talcahuano. At that time, students in 9th and 10th grade learned about the properties of light: “I saw many things I did not understand before in class. This motivates me to study physics later”, said Dani Zúñiga, 9th grade student.  Jorge Zapata, currently in 10th grade, said “It’s a good initiative to project research in the school. I really like physics, but it isn’t easy for me. They explain very well”. Other schools visited by this initiative are Colegio Concepción Pedro de Valdivia, Liceo San Pedro, Colegio El Refugio de Penco, Colegio San Pedro Nolasco, colegio Metodista and Colegio República de Israel, and at the moment visits are being coordinated with Liceo Enrique Molina,  Colegio Gran Bretaña y Marina de Chile.

“Students are very entertained and happy. I remember one of them telling me ‘I didn’t know that these things could be done so easily” said Vilma Cisternas Fernández, Head of Technical Unit Pedagogical in Colegio Concepción. Meanwhile, Jessica Paredes, professor of the same establishment, said: “Sometimes it’s a bit complicated to explain these issues, because when you work with light, you need greater equipment, which is not in schools. That is why this type of activities are so important.”

“This project started in May. We have been building the set slowly, incorporating tools for a better understanding. We currently are 7 in the group, and we hope to make progress in the development of didactic materials”, said Jorge Escandón, exhibition coordinator. The activity, which was also part of Science Day, held at the University of Concepción on October the 6th, will keep an itinerancy calendar around the Region until December this year, hoping to resume visits on March 2014.

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