BELLINGHAM, WA--(Marketwire - September 24, 2010) - Scientists and engineers active in SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, have a deep commitment to helping students and teachers learn more about photonics, the science of light.

"Waiting for Superman," a documentary by Davis Guggenheim opening 24 September, is expected to provoke discussion about why this sort of support from the community and other changes in the U.S. educational system are crucial.

Volunteers supported by SPIE devote thousands of hours annually to providing hands-on science lessons. SPIE contributes $90,000 yearly to educational outreach projects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With scholarships, grants, and other support, the Society's contribution to education exceeded $2 million in 2009.

Guggenheim's film follows five students struggling to get a good education -- an opportunity most in the U.S. take for granted -- and the barriers they face due to problems in the system.

Among signs of trouble Guggenheim identifies are low rankings of U.S. students in science and mathematics. A recent survey ranked American students 21st in science literacy and 25th in math literacy among students from 30 developed countries.

Volunteer programs help address those needs:

With a recent grant from SPIE, Ryan Hannahoe, Montana State Univ., will teach an astronomy immersion class for teachers. Participants will remotely control a telescope in Australia, learn properties of light and optics, and process astronomical data.

"All children deserve access to quality, hands-on science experiences in their classrooms. Some of them may become world-changing scientists," Hannahoe said.

A "Green Lab" program supported by SPIE at the Pennsylvania State Univ. Electro-Optics Center gives high-school students lab experience in analyzing power consumption incandescent, compact fluorescent, and LED lighting sources.

"The lab inspires students to think about the environment and the economy," said Jim Einsporn of the Penn State project. "Students discover first-hand the amount of energy used in each source, and the long-term costs of each."

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major international technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world.

Contact Information:

Amy Nelson