The 14th International Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics (ETOP-2017) took place May 29-31, 2017. The biannual conference gathered 286 educators in optics and photonics from 28 countries/regions. This was the first ETOP conference held in China.
At ETOP 2017, I presented East High’s Precision Optics Manufacturing program. The invitation was extended by Xi-Cheng Zhang, the conference co-chair/University of Rochester Professor and Institute of Optics Director. Along with my colleague, Paul Eckert, I arrived in China via a surprisingly manageable 15 hour flight from Toronto to Shanghai. A one hour train ride brought us from Shanghai to the conference city of Hangzhou (pronounced Hahn-Joe). Paul Eckert was able to attend the welcome dinner Sunday night but had to return home early to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Allie Amanda. Allie was born 7 weeks prematurely, while he was in flight somewhere over Canada! With the great care of the medical team at Strong’s PICU, Allie and mom, Michelle, have been doing well from day one.
My presentation at the conference was well-received. In a dozen PowerPoint slides, I walked the audience through the program’s origin, current status of the school’s Manufacturing lab (East High Precision Optics…now with coating!), and plans to add more optical design and alignment experiences in the near future. One of the University of Rochester Optics Professors at the conference quipped, “I had to travel 7,000 miles to get a firsthand account of what has happening a few miles from my office.” The audience appreciated hearing about a high school program that gives teenagers hands-on experience that directly connects to workforce and college preparation.
Most of the presentations focused on innovative and effective ways to deliver optics content at the college level. It was helpful to learn about the skills and concepts that are covered at the college level because I can tailor things at East’s program to better prepare my students for the next level of education. During the block of high school focused presentations, the talk by Dr. Imrana Ashraf was a particular highlight. She routinely takes optics kits to all-girls high schools in her native Pakistan for day long workshops. At these workshops, sometimes in >100 °F classrooms, young women are given their first exposure to concepts and experiments in optics. The photos from her presentation showed students with authentic wonder, delight, and determination to learn.
From the point of view of culture, this trip impressed me at every turn. For better and worse, the cities and peoples of Shanghai and Hangzhou are surprisingly Westernized. The clothing, the architecture, the pace of life, the modes of transportation, and the shops were all reminiscent of home. In my hotel room, I caught a few national news episodes, with English subtitles; I found the domestic and international reporting refreshingly clear and unbiased. On the environmental side, the air quality was decent. I walked through Shanghai’s aquarium and was pleased to see signs throughout calling for conservation and protecting/restoring nature. Language was a significant barrier, except for the hotel concierges and college students who worked at the conference, but I was able to navigate the streets subways, malls, and taxis with relative ease.