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Public lesson

Optics and Photonics Center demystifies physics for the community in São Carlos

For the last eight years, usually in the third week of August, researchers from the Optics Group of the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), in São Carlos, have been interrupting their activities to carry out an intense program that includes lessons, talks and seminars for thousands of secondary school, higher education and postgraduate students from the region. In this period, known as Optics Week (Semóptica in Portuguese), the Center for Research into Optics and Photonics (CePOF), one of the ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids) funded by FAPESP, fulfills one of its missions: disseminating science for the community.

“The event is publicized in the schools, and every year more sought after”, says Vanderlei Bagnato, CePOF’s coordinator in São Carlos. CePOF is made up by researchers from the physics institutes of the University of São Paulo (USP) in São Carlos, from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and from the Institute of Nuclear Energy and Research (Ipen). In its eighth edition, running between August 19 and 23, Semóptica gathered together something like 4,000 students. The pupils were able to opt for lessons in various areas of optics, ranging from soap bubble physics, through nanotechnology, to optical telecommunications or retractive optics. The courses that make use of demonstrations with lasers and lenses are the most popular”, says Bagnato.

In all its editions, Semóptica is preceded by a display in the shopping center in the city of São Carlos, where, besides experiments by the researchers, products developed by high technology companies from the region are also on show. This year, the exhibition occupied an area of 350 square meters and was visited by about 7,000 persons. “This is a way of drawing the university closer to the community”, says Bagnato.

Every other year, secondary school students are invited to write a monograph on a theme linked to science, with which they contend for the Milton Ferreira de Souza award, which pays homage to one of the deans of USP’s Physics Institute, who conceived the São Carlos High Technology Park Foundation and created the company called Opto Eletrônica. Last year, the students from elementary schooling wrote about the social value of science, and those from secondary schools about the medical applications of lasers. The prizes a biology laboratory with a microscope, magnifying glasses and other equipment, sponsored by fifteen local companies are going to the school where the winners come from.

This year, Semóptica instituted the Scientific and Technological Recognition Award, attributed to a personality with a prominent contribution to the development of research in the period. In this first edition, the award was granted to FAPESP’s scientific director, José Fernando Perez, for his initiative in creating the Cepids. “The homage is for FAPESP, since these programs were conceived collectively”, Perez explained at the prize-giving ceremony and inauguration of the 8th Semóptica, at which amongst the researchers present were the coordinator of the CePOF at Unicamp, Hugo Fragnito, and the coordinators of two other Cepids, one for Structural Molecular Biotechnology, Glaucius Oliva, and the other for the Development of Ceramic Materials, Elson Longo.