SPIEs Like Us

You flip the switch on a floor lamp and nothing happens. You wonder why. You try the switch again. No good. You formulate another hypothesis about why the lamp won't work and check to see if it's plugged in. If that hypothesis fails, you form another and check the bulb. You make educated guesses about why the lamp won't work and experiment until you solve the problem. Later on, you might share your experience with family members.

Whether you know it or not, you were engaging in a basic form of scientific thinking. It's a useful tool for solving problems, deepening our understanding of the universe, saving time and separating fact from fiction. It's one Socrates Academy scholars are encouraged to use often and one that will serve them well as time passes.

Socrates second graders recently received another lesson in scientific thinking, this time from an unusual source: scientists from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The UNCC scientists are members of SPIE, the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, a nonprofit based in Bellingham, Wash. SPIE advances an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light. Its members visit schools to spark curiosity and a greater understanding of science, and their recent visit to Socrates won't be the last.

Socrates students got a firsthand look at how light lenses and optics affect the way we see the world. They were able to see, touch and feel the effects of science. Diffractive glasses showed students how light spreads. Using a laser and giant lenses, SPIE scientists demonstrated how light enters the eye and can can refract to go different directions. Students saw an infrared thermal camera, which showed how our bodies radiate heat. "Having SPIE members come to our school and teach about science allows our students to see how skills, strategies and topics they learn at a young age are applied throughout life, no matter who you are or where you come from come," said 2nd-grade teacher Hailey Mathison. "Socrates Academy lays the foundation for success outside of the classroom."

For second-grader Cooper Budd, the best part of the visit was the solar-eclipse presentation. "It was cool because it taught me the moon orbits the earth. When the moon covers our view of the sun it makes a solar eclipse."

Perhaps no student was more deeply affected than Emerson Downey. "I thought it was really cool. The lasers inspired me to become a scientist!"