Future scientists explore light technologies in Phablabs photonics workshops

Photonics students and researchers from the University of Southampton ran Phablabs photonics workshops that helped young people build smart lamps, indoor greenhouses and holograms as part of a Europe-wide outreach project tackling the underrepresentation of women in science.

Workshop leaders from Southampton’s Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics and School of Physics and Astronomy introduced students to the study of light and its applications in the Phablabs 4.0 events at the Green Lab incubator in Bermondsey.

Phablabs 4.0 has engaged over 3,000, including 1,200 girls, across 10 European countries in 33 workshops and 11 Photonics Challenger projects this past year.

The University of Southampton hosted six of these workshops and two challenges for over 90 participants. These workshops were targeted at Young Minds (10-14 years), students (15-18 years) and Young Professionals and Technicians (18+ years).

Pearl John, Southampton project manager and Future Photonics Hub team member, said: “The University of Southampton is a world-leader in photonics research and it is vital that we inform the public about this key enabling technology of the 21st Century. Very few people have heard of the word ‘photonics’ yet it plays a vital role in all of our lives. Photonics powers the technology behind the internet, diagnostics and treatment in medicine, as well as the manufacturing, fashion and entertainment industries.

“We want to inspire the next generation of scientists. Without a new UK scientists imagining novel ways of coping with the demand for photonics-related technology, photonics research may not be able to grow and develop at a rate fast enough to keep up with the world’s needs.”

Each Phablabs 4.0 workshop focused on photonics-based tasks and challenges with some context in the real-world. The workshops lasted several hours, allowing participants to build an experiment or technological device from scratch, analyse the results, and determine conclusions from their findings.

“My workshop used physics principles to measure the sugar content of different drinks using laser light,” Physics PhD graduate Rebecca French explains. “This encouraged participants to make informed choices about the foods and drinks they consume. Other Southampton workshops built smart lamps, made holograms, designed indoor greenhouses and produced musical instruments which all utilise light.”

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. One of the results of the PhabLabs 4.0 project has been the publication of a new booklet, A Gender Balanced Approach. While the booklet acts as a guide for Fab Labs managers anyone organising photonics outreach activities can benefit from the project’s experiences to gain the interest of girls and young women in science and technology.  


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