According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), less than 30% of the world's researchers are women. However, a new outreach project has been tackling this under-representation by engaging young female minds with STEM, in the hope that they will pursue a career within the photonics, science or engineering industries. Staged in ten countries across Europe, a total of 1221 girls have attended the ‘Phablabs 4.0’ initiatives since last year. The workshops have created novel and innovative problems for students to solve using lasers and photonics, the technology around the emission, manipulation and detection of light.
Combining a ‘Fab Lab’ – or a fabrication laboratory - with the world of photonics, the workshops and Challenger Projects offer a glimpse into careers in photonics, engineering, computer coding, and robotics.
Students have been exploring tasks as varied as creating an artwork made from lasers, modifying a cuddly toy with photonics, or building an infrared glove that acts as a remote control where touching two fingers creates a signal. The more advanced Challenger Projects have tasked students with building an Invisibility Cloak or creating their own hologram.
“Phablabs is amazing and interesting. We’ve learned lots of new skills that we wouldn’t have picked up in school. To see the job in front of me and to meet the person who does that job has given me loads of ideas about what I can do in the future. It’s really made me want to work with photonics”, commented Ester Muylaert, 18, from Halle, Belgium, one of the many attendees.