Student Scientific Laboratory of Optical Engineering - is more than just a laboratory

In the years 2013-2014, a lot of new international laboratories were formed at ITMO University in the framework of the 5-100 Project. Students of the Сomputer and Applied Optics Department decided to keep up with the instructors and organized their own Student Scientific Laboratory of Optical Engineering. Azalia Saitgalina, a senior, explained how scientific studies had become popular among students.

- How did the laboratory come about?
 
- A year ago, I decided to apply my theoretical knowledge into practice. I had my friends who supported me. We all wanted to create our own way of studies. At that time, people in our department were looking for new ways of involving students in the scientific and educational activities. We discussed the project with our curators and with Alexey Bakholdin, the head of the department. They supported our idea and found a place for the laboratory. Thus was born the idea to create a comfortable space for the students’ scientific and educational activities. Under the guidance of Nadezhda Tolstoba, the senior curator of the department, we started our work. She is now our senior mentor who always supports and guides us. I must say that the overall attitude to the lab is very supportive. We were given a large amount of equipment. But most importantly - we had the ideas and the desire to implement them. At the roots of the laboratory there were four students: Polina Abdula, Gregory Samarkin, Daria Butova and me. All of us at that time were juniors and seniors.
 
- What projects are you implementing?

- In fact, we have an enormous field of activity. The main feature of the laboratory is that any student of any year can come here and implement his scientific idea or study things he doesn't know in the field of optics. Polina Abdula is in charge of the scientific field, she's a graduate student and participates in conferences and tries to involve everybody in the scientific work. I think it's very important for the young scientist. We provide such an opportunity for students and grow ourselves. The laboratory for us has become a favorite hobby, the best way of spending leisure time. Everything in it is done by our own hands. Therefore, despite the studies and personal affairs, we always find time to come here, even on the weekends.
Now we are working on the demonstration stands, which will help to study the properties of light and the possibility of its transforming. Taking into account the basic optical laws, we are building the structure of prisms to visually demonstrate their characteristics.
 
Some students of our department, while collecting the material for the practical part of their theses, conduct their experiments here. If we speak about some short-term creative tasks, there was, for example, an interesting task, when Andrew Veremenko, the participant of the Mr. ITMO-2015 contest, visited us. For his contest performance he designed a lightsaber made of LED strip with computer-controlled lighting and sound. Together we tried to understand how to make the light more diffused. Also, the device to control Fresnel lenses was brought to us. We assembled and installed it ourselves. Gregory Samarkin supervises the design and practical tasks; he designs and assembles some of the equipment himself. Often we have to come up with the solutions, to improvise, as we have no money to buy some additional equipment. This complicates the task, but, on the other hand, it makes you think scientifically.
 
- Do you do the research work only?
 
- No. We also do the scientific and educational tasks. The demonstration stand, for example, is a visual aid for students and high school students. During the lectures teachers often show thumbnails of the prisms or schemes of the optical rays, and we have an opportunity to provide a chance for anyone to test all these things in practice. We took part in the 2015 Applicant festival, spoke with the senior pupils in schools, talked about our department and laboratory. This was the first experience of our communication with the University' prospective applicants. We want to continue to work in this direction, arrange excursions to the lab, interestingly talk about optics. 
 
We also hold some weekly workshops and lectures with the involvement of teachers or graduates of our university. They help us and offer new solutions for problems in the laboratory. We come up with our own tasks in the framework of existing courses of optics on the basis of our equipment and knowledge. Daria Butova, the winner of the regional round of the olympiad in optical engineering, works in this direction. Any student can come to us and test his hypothesis, set up experiments. By the way, our slogan is: "Student Scientific Laboratory of Optical Engineering - is more than just a laboratory. We learn our optics with you!" In addition, we are working to expand our optical space beyond the limits of the laboratory.
 
- I heard that you also conduct some classes of English.
 
- Yes. English is often a working language of our meetings. We develop technical English, arranging special evenings, sometimes in the form of games. Our University strengthens international relations, students and teachers of the department regularly travel abroad for training and conferences and participate in study programs abroad. We also want to keep up with the times. For example, we involve guests from other countries to work in our laboratory.
 
- Do you participate in international events?
 
- Yes, with the development of our laboratory, we try to take an active part in various projects. We became members of the international contest of "People need you!" students’ social projects and have reached the next stage of the competition. We prepared a report recently on our laboratory’s educational program for the conference that will be held this spring in France. For the year of existence, we did a lot, but we have even more plans and ideas waiting for their implementation. In 2015, the founders of the laboratory will become graduates of the ITMO University, but we'll continue our education and our work in the laboratory. I'm sure that our Student Scientific Laboratory of Optical Engineering will grow with us and gather students who'll be interested in science.
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