Understanding the Science of Light: A Hands-on Approach to Learning with Implications for STEM Around the World

Susan Trammell, Ph.D., Physics and Optical Science, UNC Charlotte

Susan has shared the outline below to identify key concepts Fellows might consider in understanding the science of light. Susan welcomes feedback from CTI teacher leaders at Wednesday’s meeting in terms of how these concepts show up in their PK-12 classrooms. After Susan receives this feedback, she will craft a seminar description (posted here) reflecting the core concepts and hands-on activities for CMS PK-12 teachers in her 2022 seminar.

— What is Light?

  • Basic science of light
  • Light as wave
  • Light as a particle

— How have we developed our understanding of light?

  • History of science; scientific thought over history; evidence-based approach
  • Wave-particle duality for light and how this is a difficult concept 

— Light in our everyday lives

  • Art
  • Rainbows and soap bubbles
  • Why is the sky blue?

— Understanding the light output of the sun

  • Solar energy and solar panels
  • Biology – example color of incident light can change efficiency of photosynthesis
  • Climate  – Albedo – changes in how much light is reflected from different surfaces
  • Greenhouse effect

— Applications of light in our everyday lives

  • Google fiber/communications/optical fibers 
  • Lasers in medicine
  • Eyeglasses and polarized sunglasses

— Uses of light as a tool in science

  •             Spectroscopy – determining the composition of objects based on interaction with light
  •             Microscopes
  •             Telescopes

— Looking outside the visible – light we cannot see with our eyes

  •             X-rays (in medicine and other applications)
  •             Infrared light (night vision)
  •             Radio
  •             Microwaves (including how does a microwave oven work)

Seminar would include discussion of basic concepts and significant hands-on component to explore these concepts.