CLF and University of Southampton students aim to bring photonics to the public!
04 Jan 2024



​A group of students at the University of Southampton have recently been exploring how to bring the exciting science of photonics to life through a series of workshops.

The students and Dragons at the final event on 6th December.



Focus on Photonics, a project developed by the University of Southampton together with the Winchester Science Centre and Planet Possibility, challenged teams of students to develop a proposal for a new science exhibit at the Centre. Their demonstration would be required to explain a light or laser concept in a way both exciting and accessible for a wide variety of audiences.

​Over three sessions, the students learnt key communication techniques and best practices to make science fun and engaging for all. In small teams, they each developed their own concept and carefully considered how to make it as effective and relatable as possible – with considerations including accessibility, functionality, and cost.

On 6th December, the five teams then came together to pitch their concepts to a panel comprising of academics, engineers, educators, and fellow students, amongst others. Included on the panel was Megan Pritchard, the CLF’s Science Communication placement student, hoping to use her knowledge of sharing pioneering UK research with the CLF.

Every team brought forward an innovative, fascinating, and inspiring idea. The scientific foundations of each project included concepts such as Pepper’s Ghost, a refractive phenomenon capable of creating illusions, and optical fibres, the invention forming the basis of our internet and communication systems. The winning project focused on Rayleigh scattering, the process that makes our sky appear blue, demonstrated by filling a containing with impure water that would act as the atmosphere. When light is shone though the container, the impurities scatter the shorter wavelengths of light, which shows as blue to the observer.

 ​The students and Dragons at the final event on 6th December 2023. 

Sam Gilmartin, who is also on placement at the CLF as a Vulcan Laser Scientist, was part of The Luminatics, a team that showcased t​he physics of fibre optics through a scaled-up model with real laser light inside. His team’s idea visually showed the angles and movement of light down a fibre, demonstrating ideas such as the reflection of light, earning them a spot on the winner’s list!

​Michelle Limbert, who organised the event, said, “As a first with our students in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton and supported by Planet Possibility, we dipped our toe in the water of a “Dragons' Den-esque” event but actually made a huge splash! Especially in terms of providing our students with an invaluable set of new skills. From pitching an idea and public speaking, to being mindful of what Science Communications looks like (including tricks of the trade), to keeping the subject matter relatable to the audience, to homing in on the wonders of photonics …we had a taste of it all. The students worked incredibly hard and remained enthusiastic throughout. I could not have turned what started off as a “what if idea….” into a realty without a “guiding light” from Sam Gilmartin, the efforts and dedication of the students and the nicest group of dragons I have ever met!”

Contact: Pritchard, Megan (STFC,RAL,CLF)