Hands-On Optical Activities

Fun with the Sun

The Sun gives of a great deal of energy in the ultraviolet (UV) range of the EM spectrum. We cannot see this energy, but it can damage our skin and cause cataracts. These activities will let students detect ultraviolet light and test various substances that can protect us from it.

Default thumbnail: three prisms splitting light on a surface
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Hit the Target

Now that you have had practice measuring and using the law of reflection, you can apply what you’ve learned to hit a target with a laser by strategically placing mirrors.

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I'm Under a Lot of Stress Here!

Structural engineers and other scientists are always trying to find ways to make structures lighter and stronger. In order to do this, they need to know what parts of a building (or a bridge or other object) experience the most stress and which parts of these same structures don’t feel any stress and might not be necessary in their construction. By utilizing a phenomenon called stress birefringence, students will observe various objects under stress.

Default thumbnail: three prisms splitting light on a surface
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Laser Light: An Activity

This simple activity will help students visualize the difference between laser light and normal light. By walking in different patterns, students will simulate light of different wavelengths as well as the difference between coherent and incoherent light.

Default thumbnail: three prisms splitting light on a surface
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Multiple Reflections

We know that when light reflects off a plane mirror, the image appears left/right reversed. Once you bring in another mirror and change the angle between them, it is much harder to keep track of what orientation each image will have. In this activity, students will use the letter R – a letter which is neither horizontally nor vertically symmetric. When the letter R is reflected several times, this lack of symmetry helps us figure out how it has been reflected.

Default thumbnail: three prisms splitting light on a surface
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Three Lasers Converging at a Focal Point

In this activity, students will see how we can use the property of refraction to focus parallel rays of light. Students will observe how a convex lens can cause parallel rays of light to converge.

Default thumbnail: three prisms splitting light on a surface
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