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Laser focused on the future of Engineering

The second annual summer camp of Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies (COT) attracted 30 middle-school students to three separate sessions. According to Kim Trapp, COT industry liaison officer, the camp is part of a concerted effort across Lehigh’s engineering disciplines to help today’s youth understand that engineering is a field ripe with future possibilities.

The camp, Trapp notes, is demonstrating a trend of success. In 2004, there was only one camp offered, and only two of the 18 participants were girls. This year, though, the three camps drew a total of 30 attendees, 13 of which attended the all-girls camp in August. “What’s more,” says Kim, “we already have several kids signed up for next year,” says Kim.

Kim said the August all-girls camp was offered specifically to girls in an effort to attract more women into the fields of science and technology.

“Engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated field,” says Kim, “but at Lehigh we’re all about democratizing opportunities and encouraging innovative thinking across the board. We are committed to leveling the playing field in science and engineering, and our Opto Camp is one way that we are attempting to show tomorrow’s women that fascinating prospects abound in our field – and that these prospects are just as accessible to women as they are to men.”

Lehigh University, Northampton, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Pennsylvania State University and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania are partners in the COT, which was founded in 2000. The week-long camps were based at Northampton Community College, with field trips to Lehigh University and to Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Students in the camps this summer learned about lenses, lasers, fiber-optic networks, the color spectrum and the properties of light and sound. Here at Lehigh, students in the camp toured a lab in the department of physics that houses a near-field scanning optical microscope that allows optical imaging of objects that are five times smaller than the 500 nanometers that normal optical microscope can detect. Volkmar Dierolf, associate professor of physics, showed the kids how the near-field scanning scope could resolve images as small as 100 nanometers –less than 1/200th the width of a human hair.

Lehigh University faculty, post docs, and graduate students enjoyed getting involved and making science and engineering fun for the kids. Gary DeLeo, professor of physics, showed the kids an experiment using sound waves in which they were allowed to break champagne glasses.

“All in all, we are terribly pleased with the success of our Opto Camp and the similar camps that occur across the Lehigh landscape,” says Kim. “We’re very excited to see how this grows and progresses in 2006 – and we really can’t wait to see that first Lehigh application form that says ‘my interest in engineering goes back to a camp I attended here in grade school….’”

That, says Kim, will be the ultimate measure of the program’s success.

Posted on Thursday, September 01, 2005

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