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Capture Science

University of Otago

We ran a community photo competition called “Capture Science - Earth, Space and Weather” as a sequel to the IYL “Luminescence” photo competition, where we asked entrants to explore the science of the incredible world around us through a photo and accompanying caption explaining the underlying scientific concept(s). Almost 200 entries were received across four age categories, coming from all over the Otago/Southland region. The winning entries were then displayed for one week in an exhibition at the Otago Museum, as part of the New Zealand Science Festival.

The success of the wildly popular “Luminescence” science festival event, which we ran during the International Year of Light, sparked our chapter to develop this annual Photo Competition, "Capture Science” that will have a different science and technology theme each year. This year we set the theme of our competition to be "Earth, Space and Weather", which ties in to other community science events happening in Dunedin, including the recent opening of a planetarium at the Otago Museum.

1st Place, 12 Years and Under - Charlotte Rodgers-Foran

This year we saw many entries from people who participated in last year’s competition, and we hope to keep growing this foundation of people who participate annually. Entry to both the competition and the exhibition was free of charge, and participants included children as young as 5 years old, all the way up to professional photographers, and our split of adult and children’s entries was exactly 50/50! A huge range of interesting science phenomena were captured in the entries, including cloud formations, sunsets, lightning storms, snowflakes, anticrepuscular rays, Antarctic sea ice, icebergs, dew, erosion, rainbows, aurora, the moon and stars, solargraphs, sunspots, rock formations, puddle reflections, ocean waves, fog, and even scientific equipment such as a Galileo’s Thermometer and a telescope - we were very impressed!! A lot of entrants had clearly thought carefully about the science portrayed in their entry, and done the research required to write an accurate and interesting caption.

The judges for the competition were Ian Griffin, Director of Otago Museum, and Lynn Taylor, a local artist and a winner from last year’s competition. The judging criteria were 1) Originality, 2) Aesthetic appeal of the photograph and 3) The level of clarity of the science portrayed in the photo and described in the caption. The judging process took 3.5 hours and it was a grueling process, narrowing the entries down to just 12 place winners and 12 spot prize winners – the judges did a fantastic job!

We held a prize giving in the Physics Department and all invited winners and their families to attend. Despite a lot of our winners living out of town we had a great turnout, with nearly 30 guests attending, along with 20+ Otago Optics Chapter members and other physics postgraduate students. The prize giving began with presentation of the awards over drinks and nibbles, followed by a short speech about our sponsors and a #OSA100 celebration, complete with birthday cake! Winners received a range of fantastic prizes to foster their curiosity for science and love of photography, including camera store vouchers, science books and science kits. Following the ceremony, visitors were invited to take a tour of two optics labs and an electronics lab in our department. Both the adults and children were enthusiastic about getting to see what we do, and were very engaged in asking questions about our research. The added bonus of using a photo competition as an outreach tool, especially with the museum hosting our exhibition (where they have over 480,000 visitors per year), is that in addition to reaching those who actively engage in science outreach activities, we also reached a much larger passive audience – potentially up to 70,000 people over the course of the exhibition (or more, because we timed the exhibition to run during school holidays and also during the NZ Science Festival, both of which will bring more visitors to the museum!)

We had overwhelming positive feedback from the participants about the competition. Many people commented about the fact that this competition had a focus on the descriptions and enabled more thinking of the scientific background behind the amazing photos, which motivates us even more for keeping this event as an annual tradition of our chapter. One family (who had 18 entries across three generations) commented “It's a great way to get the kids thinking about science (oh, and their mum too!!) and we're already taking photos ready for next year”. Another inspiring moment came when a 6 year old brought her original, hand written description to prize giving, which her mum had helped her type up for her submission, showing the level of engagement we are getting from these young children. We also had many positive remarks about the fantastic prizes, which we were able to provide largely due to the OSA Centennial Grant.

Our chapter gained a lot of exposure both within our University and in the wider community through advertising and running the event. We have a Facebook page where we post about our activities, and where you can find links to see some of the photos entered in the competition. Additionally, chapter members got valuable experience in organizing and running a large-scale community outreach event and interacting with the public, including both children and adults. This helps to fine-tune communication skills and gives an appreciation of the art of explaining to a general audience! The “Capture Science” competition was planned and organized relatively smoothly due to the experience we had running last year’s “Luminescence”, also with the generous support we had from many local organizations such as the Quantum Optics Otago and the Otago Museum. Overall we are incredibly happy with how the event went and believe it was a huge success!!

To see more information on this event, and all of our others, check out our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter (@OpticsOtago)!
Image for keeping the session alive