What Can a Student Chapter Accomplish in Five Years? A lot!

On the fifth anniversary of the CIOp-UNLP OSA/SPIE student chapter, a founding member looks back on its accomplishments and encourages others to start a chapter at their own university.


figureCIOp-UNLP student chapter members at the 2012 student meeting in optics and photophysics in La Plata, including Angelica Mesa (left), Andrés Escobar, Jésica Santillán (treasurer), Patricio Fluxá (president) and Dámian Gulich.

In May of 2007, I met students from all over Latin America when we came together to take the class that started it all. It was a graduate course on optics, lasers and physics offered at the Centro de Investigaciones Ópticas (CIOp) at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata in Argentina, where I was a doctoral student. Aside from learning a lot about optics, the members of the class made many friendships—and we did not want our connections to end after the final exam. That is how our student chapter was born.

Five years later, I realize that the chapter has done so much more than allowing a group of students to stay in touch. It didn’t take long for us to start making a difference. The chapter has been very active in conducting scientific outreach activities and collaborations, ranging from seminars to symposia, often with the help of other physics student chapters in Argentina. In fact, I believe the CIOp-UNLP OSA/SPIE student chapter has contributed to the spreading of optics and photonics in Argentina and perhaps Latin America. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last five years, and I believe that other institutions can benefit from starting an OSA student chapter of their own.

Collaborating with other student groups

We realized early on that we could accomplish more by working together—with each other as well as with other student groups—than we ever could by competing. We soon joined forces with other student groups and chapters to form the Jóvenes Ópticos y Fotofísicos de Argentina (JOFA), which had been established around the same time that our chapter was, and which is also focused on the needs of optics and photophysics students and young researchers in Argentina.

In addition, we began participating in a workshop series held each year in different regions of Agentina: the Student Meeting in Optics and Photophysics (Encuentro de Estudiantes de Óptica y Fotofísica). The meeting features talks given by an international panel of experienced speakers. Past topics included lasers, frequency combs and  atomic clocks. We hosted the meeting in La Plata in collaboration with JOFA and the OSA/SPIE student chapter of the University of Buenos Aires. By working together and pooling our resources, we were able to host a large number of Argentinean and foreign researchers and expand the conference’s offerings beyond what had previously been possible for a meeting organized only by students.

Planning university seminars and symposia

Our student chapter members are very involved with the academic activities at CIOp and the university as a whole. They also enthusiastically organize their own events, which gives CIOp a much-needed injection of youth.

Since the very beginning, student chapter members have been responsible for scheduling around 10 seminars per year at CIOp. They advertise the seminar to colleagues at CIOp as well as other student chapters and centers at the university. They also introduce the speakers to the audience and provide all the facilities needed to conduct the talk.

The CIOp Chapter has organized a number of special symposia. Topics have included optical vortices (2008), integrated photonics (2009), optical memories (2010), applications of plasmonics (2010) and optical fiber communications (2011). The symposia have been partially funded by OSA and SPIE through activity grants and traveling lecturer programs that allow us to host lecturers from outside Argentina. Our foreign speakers include Jose Ferrari (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay), Ginés Lifante (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain), Oscar Martinez Matos (Universidad Complutensede Madrid, Spain), Hernando García (South Illinois University, U.S.A.) and Mário Ferreira (Universidad de Aveiro, Portugal).

Starting an OSA Student Chapter is easy!

Follow these four steps and your college or university can begin to take advantage of the many benefits and services OSA offers its chapters.

Step 1: Recruit five members. All chapter members are required to join OSA’s national organization.

Step 2: Elect officers. We also strongly recommend that the chapter have a faculty advisor.

Step 3: Submit the OSA Student Chapter application. Download an application template on our website.

Step 4: Get started. Lencina suggests that regularly scheduled, agenda-driven meetings are important to sustaining a student chapter.
Send your questions about starting a chapter
to chaptersandsections@osa.org.

Conducting outreach and recruitment activities

The chapter strives to inform a wide range of undergraduate students about the applications of optics and photonics, and to encourage more people to study optics in college. In 2008, chapter members started an optical physics workshop to accompany the physics course offered at the university’s Faculty of Agrarian and Forestral Sciences.

The workshop consists of two parts: 1) a review of electromagnetism and optics concepts; and 2) a study of scientific and technological applications in the field of agronomy, which is the application of soil and plant sciences to crop production. The chapter organizers performed computational simulations whenever possible during the optics concepts portion of the workshop to demonstrate key points. They also performed experiments using an optics equipment kit developed a few years ago by CIOp researchers.

The application section of the workshop consists of two or three talks about CIOp’s applied research in agronomy that has been conducted by an interdisciplinary team of engineers and physicists. The workshop is offered to about
90 students per year. Opinion poll results from students indicate that the workshop is highly pertinent to their studies and that the pedagogical strategy and topics are of great interest to them.

Celebrating the laser

In 2010, CIOp joined the LaserFest celebration of the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser. CIOp organized the only event in South America for the general public at the Teatro Argentino de la Plata. It was called “El laser en nuestra vida” (the laser in our lives). Student chapter members developed an information booth for the event to teach attendees how to safely use laser pointers. The booth, combined with “laser graffiti” (a CIOp show that used lasers to create art), was used at an Argentinean fair of science and technology in 2011 and a regional fair in 2012.

Logistics of running a student chapter

One of the best ways to sustain your student chapter is with regularly scheduled meetings. Our chapter holds two formal meetings each year. We follow an agenda that includes membership topics, chapter mission and objectives, and administrative tasks that are important to the chapter’s success. Our group also meets informally to share personal and professional experiences over red wine and empanadas.

Student chapters allow members to be involved in a variety of activities that are not covered by undergraduate or Ph.D. courses, but that are nevertheless integral to shaping their career paths. I encourage students at institutions that do not have a student chapter to set one up. You will be amazed by what a group of motivated young people can achieve.

Alberto Lencina is an assistant researcher with the group of opto-digital processing of information at CIOp. He is also an assistant teacher in the physics department of the Faculty of Sciences at UNLP. He was the 2007-2009 CIOp OSA student chapter secretary and 2011 OSA chapter advisor.

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What Can a Student Chapter Accomplish in Five Years? A lot!

On the fifth anniversary of the CIOp-UNLP OSA/SPIE student chapter, a founding member looks back on its accomplishments and encourages others to start a chapter at their own university.

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