noao0313 — Organization Release

OSA and SPIE Awarded $1.7 Million Grant to Implement National Science Education Program for Underrepresented Middle School Students

New program, Hands-On Optics: Making an Impact with Light, will bring science education to tens of thousands of underrepresented children nationwide

30 September 2003

The Optical Society of America (OSA) and The International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), along with key industry partners, Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), were awarded today a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to implement a national middle school science education program: Hands-On Optics: Making an Impact with Light (HOO).

HOO is a three-year informal science program designed to bring optics education to tens of thousands of underrepresented students nationwide. A key to the program, according to OSA and SPIE, is its focus on actively connecting optics industry volunteers with teachers and individual students. The program will reach out to females and minority groups who are typically not adequately represented in the science and technology workforce. Sample activities include building a kaleidoscope, building a pinhole camera, and creating holograms.

HOO is truly a unique program targeting scientific activities not only at students in critical populations—educationally disadvantaged, middle-school-aged learners—but also their entire support network. Its activities will be geared towards actively involving parents, teachers and community volunteers in the learning process,” said Elizabeth Rogan, executive director, OSA. “Our goal with HOO is to enhance science education for these populations and to foster an interest in science, which may open doors to futures these students had never considered.

SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs emphasized, “This program fulfills a critical component of SPIE’s educational mission. We are confident that fostering an interest in science at an early age will help supplement the ranks of future optical engineers, those who will fulfill the promise of the ‘century of the photon.’ The leadership of SPIE is especially pleased that HOO will provide opportunities for historically underrepresented students to experience the excitement and potential of optics and photonics.

We are very pleased to partner with SPIE, OSA and NOAO to bring the study of this emerging science to our students,” said MESA Executive Director Michael Aldaco. “MESA has more than 30 years of experience working with educationally disadvantaged students.

Based on recommendations from scientists, as well as science and technology educators and experts, the HOO module will consist of optics-related programs that will take place after school, during weekend sessions, and at summer camps or family workshops. Through the activity modules, students will gain experience and understanding of optics principles. They will rely on inquiry, critical thinking, and problem solving skills involving optics and will also learn how optics interfaces with other disciplines.

Children and adults everywhere are enthralled by light, shadows, and the colors of our natural world,” said Dr. Stephen Pompea, manager of science education at NOAO. “Our fascination with astronomy and the microscopic world is fueled by advances in optics and optical technology. HOO has been designed to use the appeal of optical wonders to teach practical lessons about light and its uses.

By actively engaging K-12 students in optics activities, HOO will:

  • Create links from the professional optics community to the informal science education community.
  • Reach underrepresented middle school cohorts in science and technology, and connect with their parents and teachers, school districts and communities.
  • Provide opportunities for the target populations to succeed in collaborative learning and problem solving through inquiry-based, hands-on applications of optical engineering skills and knowledge.
  • Increase science and technology knowledge for students, and increase awareness of optics as a discipline and career that cross-cuts numerous fields.

Funds provided through the HOO grant will also make possible extensive training for teachers, parents and optics professionals, all of whom will play various leadership roles within the HOO activities.

Development of the pilot program is scheduled to begin next month. Expansion toward a national program will take place in 2006.

NOAO will play a key role in training teachers and volunteers, and in developing the optics kits. MESA teachers will implement the program initially, which will expand to selected sites across the country in 2004 and 2005.

More information

About OSA

The Optical Society of America (OSA) brings together an international network of the industry’s preeminent optics and photonics scientists, engineers, educators, technicians and business leaders. Representing more than 15,000 members from approximately 100 different countries, OSA promotes the worldwide generation, application and dissemination of optics and photonics knowledge through its meetings, events and journals. Since its founding in 1916, OSA member benefits, programming, publications, products and services have set the industries standard of excellence. Additional information on OSA is available on the Society’s Web site at

About SPIE

The International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) was founded in 1955 to bring together engineers from several technical disciplines involved in high-speed, optically based test and measurement. Since then, the field of optical engineering has evolved from a multidisciplinary amalgam of physics, electrical and mechanical engineering, and materials science into an identifiable discipline in its own right. Simultaneously, SPIE has grown into a vital international organization that addresses virtually all subfields associated with optics and photonics technologies and their many engineering, scientific, and commercial applications.

About NOAO

Home of Kitt Peak National Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) is located near Tucson, AZ, and is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the NSF.

About MESA

Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious programs assisting educationally disadvantaged students to excel in math and science and attain baccalaureate degrees in math-based fields. Over 34,000 California students participate in MESA’s pre-college, community college and university-level engineering programs.


Colleen Morrison
Optical Society of America

Christine Dunn
Tel: 510.987.9296

Elizabeth Bowen
Imre Communications
Tel: 410.821.8220

About the Release

Release No.:noao0313
Legacy ID:NOAO 03-13