Lasers more than meets the eye

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Sydney Richardson | The Daily Wildcat

Elliott Kwan, an optical sciences graduate student, demonstrates how the human eye works and the effects as humans age during the College of Optical Sciences' Laser Fun Day in the Meinel Optical Sciences building on Saturday. The event brought attention to the different applications of optics.

Ever wonder what it feels like to be James Bond and navigate your way through a web of lasers? Community members gathered at Laser Fun Day to do just that in a demonstration of the College of Optical Sciences’ research regarding laser and light technology on Saturday.

The college put on its fifth annual Laser Fun Day, an event composed of different displays and demos — all run by student volunteers — to show the different optics sections.

“We put on Laser Fun Day to show the community that optics is so much more than lasers and glasses,” said Benjamin Cromey, a senior studying optical sciences and engineering. “Plus, even if the kids at our event don’t decide to major in optics one day, we hope that the cool science we show them will encourage them to pursue a STEM field.”

The most popular attraction at Laser Fun Day is always the laser maze. This year, the college was able to completely redesign the maze thanks to a grant from the International Society for Optics and Photonics. Other features of this year’s event included the sophomores’ discussion of optics and its impact on health, the junior class showing how optics can help reduce and make energy, and the seniors showing off different light-based communication technologies.

The optical sciences program at the UA is uncommon, as most universities around the world do not offer the option for a major, said Dawson Baker, an optical sciences graduate student and president of the Student Optics Chapter.

“This year is special, because the UN has designated 2015 as the International Year of Light,” Baker said. “We’ve gotten special funding through SPIE to emphasize the ways in which light and light-based technologies serve society.”

This year’s event theme is based on the UN’s designation, and many of the event’s features were tied to that concept. Event attendance was around 1,000, and the number of attendees increases each year.

“The event is geared mainly toward kids to get them interested and thinking about optics,” said Xander Deputy, a junior studying optical sciences and engineering, “but I have seen high school kids, interested adults with small infants, and enthused adults who think optics topics are cool and want to check out the demos.”

The event changes and grows each year, which seems to help bring in more interested guests. All of the demos become more in-depth as the years go on, because the students delve further into optics.

“The past few years, I have volunteered to present demos to the people that attend Laser Fun Day,” Deputy said. “The first year, I talked about a Fresnel lens, and the second year, I was on a demo explaining how lasers were involved in everyday objects we use.”

With the events varying from the laser maze to in-depth demonstrations, there was something for people of all ages. Additionally, the Laser Fun Day events served as demonstrations of optics sciences’ practical opportunities available for those who choose to enter the field.

“I chose to study optics because it provides a window in the unknown,” Baker said. “Optics has consistently provided humanity with the tools it needs to discover new and interesting things. Beyond correcting bad eyesight, it has shown us the existence of bacteria, the structure of matter and the vastness of outer space. It has been a major enabler of modern technology, and all signs at present indicate that it will continue to be.”

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