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Laser Fun Day report

This story is very late, I’m afraid. Regardless, Laser Fun Day was a huge event so it’s worth discussing even this late.

On March 1st, the College of Optical Sciences held it’s fourth annual Laser Fun Day! The event was well attended and well liked. We estimate somewhere between 800 and 1100 people showed up to the event over the course of the even from 10 to 3.

We had around 1000 visitors to Laser Fun Day

We had around 1000 visitors to Laser Fun Day

Laser Fun Day is the largest outreach event of the year for SOCk, or the Student Optics Chapter here at the U of A. We invited children and families of all ages to come visit the College of Optical Sciences and learn about fascinating field of Optics. Our goal for Laser Fun Day was that it would be a place where anyone could learn cool things about light, and how we can use our understanding of how light works to improve science and technology.We also had demonstrations to explain every day optics phenomenons that everyone sees, such as why the sky is blue, or why rainbows occur. We filled a good portion of the College of Optical Sciences with hands on demonstrations to make the day as fun and interactive for the visitors as possible.

One of the many laser demos at Laser Fun Day

One of the many laser demos at Laser Fun Day

This past academic year, I have been the Outreach Coordinator for SOCk, which included the large responsibility of taking charge of the outreach push for Laser Fun Day. While I had participated in Laser Fun Day preparations before, I had not had taken on an administrative responsibility like this before. While the time I spent prepping for Laser Fun Day, or LFD as I’ll refer to it, made an already hard semester even harder, I gained a lot of valuable experience throughout the planning process. While the outreach effort could have been more effective, I was glad that we had around 1000 people, and that a story on Laser Fun Day made it to the front page of the main U of A website.

Polarization always has a good "wow" factor to it

Polarization always has a good “wow” factor to it. We had quite a few demos spanning all topics of optics, from fiber optics, to how the eye works, to optical illusions… you name it!

Each class of undergraduates is assigned a theme, and each class is expected to provide demonstrations related to that theme at LFD. This year, the Junior class, my class at the time (can’t believe I’m a senior already) had the theme of Lasers. My class is a lot of fun, and we worked together to not only create a room filled with cool facts, but one that was visually interesting and fun.

Myself in front of the lasers exhibit

Myself in front of the lasers exhibit

In order to best understand the impact of the event, we asked visitors to fill out short surveys with just a few questions. While we didn’t get as many responses as I would have liked, the information was very helpful to us. I’ll quickly summarize the questions and the responses we received:

  1. We asked if visitors had ever come to LFD before. 17% had come before, and 83% came for the first time.
  2. When we asked visitors if they had ever been exposed to optics before, 52% percent said this was their first exposure. This was great, since this was one of the goals of the event, to show people what optics really is.
  3. One of the most important questions we asked was “How did you hear about Laser Fun Day?” I in particular was very interested in this question, since it would give me an idea of how successful my outreach efforts had been. The chart below gives the breakdown.

    How visitors found out about Laser Fun Day

    How visitors found out about Laser Fun Day

    The majority of visitors had a friend or colleague personally invite them. I wish the school percentage was higher, but there’s a target for improvement for next year.

  4. Next we asked visitors what their favorite demonstration was. I wasn’t completely surprised at the results.
    The visitors made a good choice when asked about their favorite part of the event

    The visitors made a good choice when asked about their favorite part of the event

    The Laser Maze has traditionally been a favorite, not surprisingly! It’s a short maze of eye-safe lasers with a fog machine to add spy flair and beam visibility. I always like helping setting it up, because then I can “test” the maze before any kids show up. 🙂 Another bright spot to note on the favorite parts list is how many people mentioned how much they enjoyed the enthusiastic students manning the demos. We had many volunteers over the course of the day, and the event would not have been possible without them. Quite a few CIAN students here at the U of A were involved with the event.

    The Laser Maze: training ground for aspiring spies and optical scientists

    The Laser Maze: training ground for aspiring spies and optical scientists

In addition to these structured response questions, we received a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism that will help us have a better event next time. I look forward to participating in the preparation for next year’s LFD! Planning this LFD was a hectic and time consuming process, and I think it’s fair to say that the officers for SOCk learned an important lesson: while you CAN plan a LFD in three months, you SHOULD plan it in four. 🙂

Still waiting on the permission to use the pictures from Montana, but that’s next on my list to talk about here.

3 responses to “Laser Fun Day report

  1. annamaria lisotti

    Hi!I’m a physics teacher, what kind of laser actually use for the maze?
    I would like to do it with my students but I’m kind of worried about safety issues.

    • Hello!

      Great question. The Office of Radiation Control and Biological Safety (ORCBS) at the University of Arizona regulates our use of lasers, both for research purposes and for events like Laser Fun Day. For the laser maze, we have to be extra careful for several reasons. One, we are using a green laser, near where the human eye is most sensitive. Two, the laser maze is in a dark room, which means that the human eye is dilated, and therefore allows more light to enter it. Three, we’re dealing with kids, who won’t know to avoid a laser beam entering there eye. Add all this together, and ORCBS limits the total beam power we can use for each individual beam to .3 mW. This is a very very low beam power, so someone could stare into this beam without any risk of eye damage. In this sense, the particular laser doesn’t matter as much as the power in each beam. The laser we use is a typical lab bench laser (so nothing fancy). We just decrease the power of each beam until it is at a safe level.

  2. Pingback: The International Year of Light and Laser Fun Day 2015 | Education at the Center for Integrated Access Networks

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