During my recent trip to China I had the opportunity to meet with researchers in my field of integrated photonics. Through Chaotan Sima, an alumni of my research group in the Optoelectronics Research Centre, I was introduced to Professor Huilian Ma, of Zhejiang University’s Laboratory of Micro-Optic Gyroscopes in the school of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The research centre has approximately 40 research students and 10 professors. I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Ma’s group, including my PhD student-counterpart Jianjie Zhang. I am extremely grateful for the kind and generous reception of my hosts, who made me discover Hangzhou food and helped me settle in after an eventful travel. Credit goes to them too for all the pictures in the post!
The visit was a great opportunity to learn about how photonics integrated circuits can be used as optical gyroscopes. Gyroscopes are used to stabilise position of navigation systems or automatic pilots independent of their movement of rotation. It is important for space applications, such as in satellites orbiting around the earth, where the ability to accurately determine position is of the utmost importance. Normally gyroscopes have moving (mechanical) parts, so can be delicate to package and send safely up to the space! The integration of these devices leads to more stable, smaller and scalable technologies.
Prof. Ma’s group at Zhejiang University is developing integrated optical gyroscopes on chips the size of a large stamp. They design and test prototypes on a silica-(glass)-on-silicon platform. These devices must maintain a very high signal-to-noise ratio to be efficient sensors. A well-known problem for optical gyroscopes is that the signal can be degraded by imperfect polarisations of the laser source used with these systems. In Southampton I had been researching ways to create on-chip polarisation filters compatible with silica technology, which could improve the performance of these devices. In the months leading up to this trip I had received some prototypes to test the suitability of the Southampton Direct UV Writing laser system to make polarizing filters using tilted gratings in waveguides, using the fabrication techniques I’ve discussed previously. The visit gave me the opportunity to present the work I’ve conducted to date and understand the testing methods. It’s been extremely worthwhile discussing the project directly with the people involved, and I’m looking forward to further experimental work that will arise from these discussions.
The 14th International Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics has offered me a unique perspective into how local community and institutional education work ties into the bigger picture. The conference featured 1 plenary, 16 keynotes and 16 invited talks, in addition to 8 parallel sessions. I have developed my understanding of classroom teaching methods and been inspired by case studies at regional, national and international level. I have found out about useful tools and evaluation techniques that I wish to integrate into my future activities. I am struck by the overwhelming desire to better the global education system and prepare the skilled workforce needed for the next photonics technology revolution.
Coming into this conference I was hoping to get some insight on the role of industry in the education sector. This came, often in unexpected places! I attended a workshop given by Judith Donnelly (Judy) in Problem-Based Learning, a pedagogy that was adapted to the photonics technology sector as a result of an industry demand for students to be better prepared for the workplace. Some educators related their experiences of delivering successful projects working alongside industry, where students trained in technical photonics skills were being scooped up by companies in the private sector. It was encouraging to see a small number of members of industry participating in this conference with stands and talks. Tsutomu Hara from Hamamatsu offered some perspective on outreach programs offered in the private sector to develop the public’s appreciation of Optics and Photonics technologies, as well as educational and training activities implemented to train students.
I was also going to attend a second workshop organised by Judy, which is called Dumpster Optics. It aims to teach graduate students how to use simple experiments to explain optics phenomena to children. I’d developed a workshop with similar aims in the past (see TS Squared) so I was looking forward to getting some new perspectives. To facilitate the communication exercise Judy, had invited conference attendees to bring their children; as a unforeseen consequence, the children outnumbered the adults considerably. Doff the student cap, don the teacher hat, and here I am, bemused, standing with Mei, local student turned translator, Judy and her assistant-son Matt, in front of 40 very excited Chinese children. It was unsuspectingly amusing to be faced with exactly what got me there: a classroom full of very excited primary school students with bags of experiments at their disposal! I learnt that “Wow” does not get lost in translation, and I it was a pleasure to give these children the opportunity of practising hands-on experiments and experiencing various optics phenomena.
I am attending the 14th International Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics that is hosted at Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China. This bi-annual meeting brings together educators from all over the world: this year 230 participants from 28 countries have travelled to Hangzhou to attend ETOP. In the history of this conference, 866 papers have been written to report development on novel teaching methods for students from primary schools to senior postgraduate levels, including 110 on outreach endeavours. I co-authored a paper at the 2015 ETOP event on the outreach program that I have led in Southampton (open access online), but this is my first time in attendance. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to be surrounded by experienced educators that have been advancing teaching in their communities for many years.
Confidence breeds hope…
The plenary session of the conference was “presented” by Eric Mazur. I use inverted commas for presented as this was a masterpiece in engagement, an incredible live demonstration of an educating exercise. It explored the meaning of teaching, illustrated by a live demo of active learning, which gave me that ah-ha moment when I realised how Archimedes’ principle worked (note to self: volume is really important). I have never thought much about my teaching. I have put myself in positions where I could do it, I have enjoyed the process of finding what works, and developed my teaching platform through experienced mentors, peer-collaboration and practice. The talk was a good opportunity to reflect.
How do I understand Teaching now? Teaching is the construction of knowledge. It must be an emotional process, to be efficient. The student goes through the steps of reflection, opinion-forming and discussion to become better informed. The teacher has a role to facilitate the transfer of information, by offering students her/his experience and giving them resources (books, course notes, etc.) to acquire this. The class becomes a safe communal space for peer-learning, with teachers for mentoring, and where students can connect the information with their personal experiences.
Hope breeds peace.” Confucius
At a time of international turmoil, education must serve the purpose of enlightenment. Offering children and adults those “ah-ha” moments is key. Experiencing and engaging with science, research and their applications to their everyday lives are vital ingredient to building knowledge in society. If those smiles I have seen in my education experience can be transferred to everyone’s daily lives, then I feel, candidly perhaps, that the world will be a better place.
I’m excited to be travelling to China. I’m on my way to Hangzhou, which is a couple hours away from Shanghai. This will be a relatively short trip, and a good opportunity to revive the blog with news and pictures of where my research and outreach activities take me! Thanks for tuning in, expect 2-3 posts a week over the next fortnight.
Next week I will be presenting a paper at the 14th International Conference on Education and Training on Optics and Photonics (ETOP) on organising science classes in places where you wouldn’t expect them. This is based around a couple of events, one that I run at the 2016 Winchester Cathedral Primary Science Festival, and another show on particle physics that co-author Alex Jantzen did at Salisbury Cathedral. You’ll read (and see) more about that in due course!
I will also be visiting Zhejiang University to meet with potential collaborators on research projects. I posted a while back on the research I am doing to build photonics integrated circuits to make polarisation filters. An application of these filters is to enhance optical integrated gyroscopes, a type of sensor that can be used for navigation in aerospace or satellites for instance. The polarisation of light in these circuits can cause unwanted sources of noise that are detrimental to the signal they are trying to sense. The technology I’ve been developing could offer a significant improvement of the “signal-to-noise” ratio in these devices. I am looking forward for the opportunity to present my research and find out about work happening in Zhejiang.
I was very near Guangzhou in 2008, but I never visited. Back then I spent time in Shanghai, studying Mandarin Chinese at Fudan University. The memories are great, alas the language skills not so good anymore! I have found that Chinese is an unforgiving language, which will slip away without regular practice! I imagine that in the past 9 years Shanghai has changed a lot, and I’m looking forward to catch up with people and see how things have changed!
On Wednesday 8th March I travelled to the University of Exeter for a workshop organised by their Optics and Photonics society. They hosted an event called “Scientists and Engineers Can Do Anything: How to Create Your Dream Career” with, as a special guest all the way from the USA, SPIE visiting lecturer Alaina Levine. I was invited as part of a delegation from the University of Southampton’s Optics and Photonics Society. Thanks to the team in Exeter for the invitation and for letting me use their pictures in this post.
The day consisted of a series of talks to develop networking and communication skills, with an emphasis on why these are important to build one’s career. Alaina covered a wide range of topics ranging from entrepreneurial to science-communication careers, illustrated by an colourful collection of personal stories. I particularly enjoyed the first session that focused on international job search. Finding a job abroad may seem like a painful experience. Her advice was to commit to the cause and show you’re invested into making it happen. It’s important to look out for opportunities, keep informed on who is growing and hiring. Google News Alerts and job adverts are useful tools; networks are essential to uncover many more unknown or hidden opportunities!
A career in North America is something I am excited about, and this workshop was a motivation booster. My PhD is coming to an end and a move is going to happen in the near future. It is refreshing to hear that all it takes is creativity, courage and hard work, a set of skills that I wish will see me through to the end of my studies!
The first episode of my travels and research in North America is drawing to a close. It’s been wonderful and I have many people to thank.
I have visited people in 9 universities and 3 companies in the last 8 weeks. Thank you for giving me your time. I have enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss my research, my outreach & education work, and my plans for the future. It has been a true pleasure to meet you and find out what you do and what drives you.
Thank you to all the people that I have met along the way. The new meetings have been rich and inspiring, the reunions have been great. I wish that I will see you again soon.
Thank you to all of you that got me here, kept in touch, and followed the blog; you, unknowingly perhaps, kept me going throughout. My supervisors, Peter and James, for letting me go ahead with this project. Stephan, for encouraging me to blog and enhancing this space with cool maps, videos and a subscriber mailing list. The Lightwave team, all of you who make me feel a part of this wonderful community of research, education and inspiration; it was an honour to present our work at an international conference and tour our kit across North America. And of course, my family, and Mum, Dad, Rebecca for being there, always; and Becky, love of my life.
Last week I attended an international conference called Optics Education and Outreach IV (IV because it’s the 4th time it’s run!), which was held at the SPIE Optics + Photonics 2016 congress. I presented work that I and colleagues from the University of Southampton carried out during the 2015 International Year of Light (IYL 2015). IYL 2015 was proclaimed by UNESCO to recognise and celebrate the importance of light and light-based technologies for society, healthcare, education, environment, economy and as a means to connect the world.
The conference was inspiring. It brought together a rich mix of researchers, educators and industry professionals to present outreach and education activities running around the world. Truly world-class. Words cannot begin to capture the diversity, enthusiasm and richness of what is going on. The work will eventually appear in an open access journal, and I will update this page when it becomes available.
I and, I felt, all of the authors sought to present our work on the world stage to inspire and inform. I had the pleasure to write 3 papers with 12 incredible human beings that go by the label of researchers:
Class-based outreach led by postgraduate students for school pupils. I presented types of activities that are suitable for working with schools, including poster competitions, school assembly lectures, workshops, classes, and more! This also included a once-in-a-lifetime project where 4 PhD students, from Southampton, and 2 high school pupils, from the Thomas Hardye School, took to the world stage by presenting outreach at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the IYL 2015 opening ceremony; here’s a great write-up of what happened in Paris, courtesy of Nicholas Wong.
I presented the first 2 papers, and Nicholas did a great job at presenting paper #3.
IYL 2015 had a global reach and the global impact will also, no doubt, be huge. I will be going back to UNESCO next month to hear the report on the year. It’s humbling that I played a part in this. I presented my hard work on the world stage at an international conference, people will read about this in a journal article, and I was filmed in front of a live audience on Facebook! Over 400 people have tuned into my talk, and those dearest to me, my girlfriend, sister, parents and family, were able to watch me present; that means the world to me.