Mencap-Lightwave: Outreach with Young Adults with Learning Disabilities

By University of Southampton Chapter and Rebecca Bellworthy

On Tuesday 17th May 2016, members of the University of Southampton’s Optics and Photonics Society (OPSoc) teamed up with Mencap Southampton for an Outreach event for 8 young adults with learning disabilities.

Matthew Posner and Lieke Van Putten, both PhD students at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), joined 2 staff and 2 volunteers of the center, including Rebecca Bellworthy, at the Mencap centre in Porstwood, a neighborhood in the city of Southampton, UK, that is located less than 1 mile from the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.

Mencap is a charity that aids individuals with learning disabilities. The outreach team visited the “Own2Feet” group for young adults, teaching life skills and helping its members gain independence, from making a cup of tea to using public transport.
The group’s curriculum focuses on increasing interaction with society and the community, enabling members to lead more fulfilled lives. Education is necessary to operate in society: Own2Feet organizes classes for its students during the school term time, on subjects from self-identity to using money. This term there has been a special focus on science, to satisfy the curricular component which encourages activities that require problems to be solved. As part of this module, through connections between Mencap and OPSoc we arranged a class on light sciences through OPSoc’s Lightwave Outreach Education program.
The Lightwave program is comprised of hands-on activities, covering topics on mirrors & lenses, the EM spectrum and telecommunications. On this day, we had the chance to bend our faces using mirrors, send light messages using Morse code and split white light into different colors. All of us had a bit of a splash as we played with the Tyndall-Colladon water fountain, whilst trying to understand the phenomenon that ‘bends’ light through a stream of water by total internal reflection.
We also talked about the world-leading research being carried out at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, from next generation photonic-crystal fibers for tackling the global communication capacity crunch, to optical integrated circuits that are being developed as building blocks for quantum computers.
The students learnt new words applied to a scientific context from the class: “lasers”, “fibers”, “rainbow”, “mirrors”.

We all felt our own way about this new experience: amused, humbled, and satisfied. Lieke enjoyed the excited reactions she received during the demonstration, but also towards the experiments the students could do themselves. Matthew overcame his apprehension of working with young adults with learning disabilities. Rebecca explored new science topics
What we felt is that people of all abilities can be excited by what is essentially nature and science and take pleasure and reward in meeting new people that live and work outside of our usual zones of comfort.

For more information on Lightwave and this event, contact and we would like to thank OSA for providing us with the Centennial Special Events Grant.


Posted: 2 June 2016 by University of Southampton Chapter and Rebecca Bellworthy | with 0 comments

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