Sasol Techno X; an event organised by Sasol a chemicals and energy company, is one of the biggest Science, Mathematics and Technology outreach programs in South Africa recording on average an attendance of over 20 000 high school pupils. The Wits optics chapter would definitely not miss such an opportunity to impart knowledge about light, optics and photonics to upcoming young scientists. Coordinated by the Wits school of Liason, Nyiku Mahonisi and I, fully armed with the SPIE optics suitcase were the chapter representatives who volunteered to go on a road trip to Secunda, Mpumalanga a mining town in the eastern part of South Africa. Our orders and mission were clear, give as many high school pupils as possible a clear insight of the fun side of light and in process ensuring that they become knowledgeable of the world of optics and photonics.
After a two hour mid-morning drive on Sunday the 31st of July 2017, we arrived in Secunda a day earlier to setup our tent with our fellow university colleagues from other science fields. With the tent up and all our experiments setup, we were ready to tango with our young and upcoming scientist the next day.
Day one of the five day outreach, was filled with energy and excitement to engage with the high school pupils. As buses occupied with pupils enthusiastic about science and technology drove in, this was an indication that fun times lay ahead of us. Recording close to 5000 pupils on the 1st day, we explained to the pupils that there is more to light than just helping us to see at night. We demonstrated how light can be used for communication by using each colour (wavelength) from the visible spectrum as a channel for data transmission. In this case each colour (frequency) was used to transmit music from a phone via an RGD light emitting diode through free space to a receiver connected to speaker to the delight of the pupils and this was literally music to our ears.
We highlighted how light can be manipulated using a polarization filter i.e. once it is polarized we can use a second polarizer to dictate what can be transmitted or blocked out. In addition to the optics experiments were renewable energy experiments in the form of miniature solar powered cars demonstrating how light can be a source of energy. These experiments were demonstrated throughout the 5 day outreach which had an approximate attendance of over 22 000; high school pupils and the general public combined.
On the final day, doors were open to the members of the public who were quite interested and excited to have the opportunity ask questions about science in particular photonics. Parallel to us having fun with the pupils, the organizers had judges circulating among the pupils grading each University with respect to the experiments presented and the way the experiments were demonstrated and conveyed to pupils. This was announced later that evening at the closing ceremony with Wits University receiving the top award in the universities category.