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  • The Power of Spectra
Oct 2009
SAN JOSE, Calif., Oct. 15, 2009 – “I have contributed all my knowledge to laser research, yet I still get no RESPECT! But that’s going to change after I get my hands on that girl and harness her power…”

I was sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont San Jose, surrounded by attendees of the 2009 Frontiers in Optics meeting but largely hidden by wide marble pillars and tall potted plants. The latter pronouncement sent a chill through me.

Spectra-cover.jpgI flipped the page to see what Machiavellian scheme the evil Miss Alignment – the laser scientist in stiletto boots – was about to put into play. I soon found out. Just a few panels later, she kidnapped three teens, dragged them to her secret laboratory by the lake and texted Lucinda Hene, the unwitting hero of the story: “I have your friends! Let’s see if your ‘laser’ powers can save them!” The trap was set.

I must say, I was taken in by “Spectra: The Original Laser Superhero,” a comic book published by the American Physical Society as part of its educational efforts. Written by Rebecca Thompson-Flagg, the head of public outreach at APS, with illustrations by Kerry G. Johnson, it tells the story of Lucinda – an otherwise ordinary girl who one day finds she is imbued with the powers of a laser. Of course, it’s also chock full of lessons about what a laser can do.

The comic book is part of PhysicsQuest, a story-based activity sponsored by APS designed to show middle school students that science is both fun and relevant. It consists of four physical science experiments built around a mystery. Small groups of students perform the experiments, each of which gives them a clue to help them solve the mystery. Classes can submit their answers online, and when they do are entered into a random drawing for prizes.

APS provides free PhysicsQuest kits to registered 6th- to 9th-grade physical science classes, home-school groups, science clubs and after-school programs. The society expects to reach 13,000 classrooms with the Spectra-based activity, the sixth in the series of PhysicsQuest projects (and the second to be accompanied by a comic book; last year’s story was “Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair”).

PhysicsQuest 2009 and the Spectra series of comics will lead into the 50th anniversary of the laser next year. I caught up with Thompson-Flagg yesterday at the Frontiers in Optics meeting. She told me that, in addition to appearing in the comics, the Spectra character will be printed on a variety of APS materials in the coming year, while students can follow her and her friends through Twitter feeds and Facebook pages APS has set up for them.

These efforts will promote the PhysicsQuest program, she said, but they will also offer positive images of girls and women in science.

For more information, visit:  

Gary Boas

View all our coverage of Frontiers in Optics 2009

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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