You are here

SPIE honors Anderson

Dr. Betty Lise AndersonIn a world divided by right and left-brains, Ohio State Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Dr. Betty Lise Anderson has an ability to reach across both aisles.

Her knack for explaining groundbreaking engineering in easily understandable terms recently earned her recognition from SPIE, the International Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers, a group dedicated toward advancing the interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light – otherwise known as photonics.

Each year, SPIE promotes selected members as new Fellows of the Society. This year, Anderson is among 58 professionals picked for their “significant scientific and technical contributions in the multidisciplinary fields of optics, photonics and imaging.”

Of 157 employers registered at the Society of Women Engineers Career Day event held at the Ohio State Union in February, organizers said 108 were seeking electrical and computer engineering (ECE) grads. The ratio speaks to the high demand of such technical engineers in the workforce.

President Barack Obama even likened the search for the new generation of engineers to national urgency – akin to the great space race of the late 1950s.

"We've made incredible progress on education, helping students to finance their college educations, but we still don't have enough engineers," Obama said in 2011.

SPIE praises Anderson’s ability to reach out to these younger generations.

“Anderson focuses primarily on underserved, resource-poor schools and communities, as well as all-girls schools. She has visited urban and rural schools and libraries all around central Ohio. With her student volunteers from the Ohio State University, she has visited 78 schools, 18 camps, six after-school programs, plus assorted scout troops, 4H, engineering girl’s clubs and the like,” the SPIE nomination states.

SPIE also noted Anderson's ongoing work in white cell-based optical true-time delay, contributions to health sciences, outreach to teachers and the increased development of photonics at the university level.

Friday morning, Anderson was full of her trademark energy as she performed quick versions of her outreach demonstrations in the basement Photonics rooms at Dreese Laboratory.

“Most of the time when we go to schools they will let us have an hour,” Anderson said. “We have to make everything that can be done in an hour.”

Since 2008, Anderson has used those collected hours to teach her knowledge about photonics to countless schools across the state, including international trips to Colombia.

“We just go wherever we are invited,” Anderson said. “I was just checking my stats this morning, and we’re up to 8,970 students (reached).”

Each photonics demonstration, Anderson said, has been meticulously honed down over the years to increase understanding across different language, age and cultural barriers.

“We started off handing out instructions, but realized the kids were only looking at the pictures. So, we made instructions that are only pictures. Part of our thinking is we want people all over the world to be able to use these. We spent a lot of time trying to make this super, super clear,” she said.

In one demonstration, students learn how to make a basic speaker out of paper, a few wires and a couple magnets. In another, Anderson makes a copper coil repeatedly jump into the air as it connects with the magnetic flow.

“I never get tired of these,” Anderson laughed, as the coil shot off the magnet. “It’s so much fun.”

She points to another experiment, which acts as a basic heart rate monitor.

“We have an infrared LED in this potato chip clip and an infrared reader,” she said. “We’re all transparent to infrared. If we could see in infrared, we would all look like jellyfish with bones. But the hemoglobin in your blood absorbs infrared. So, as your blood goes by in your finger, with your heartbeat, it’ll attenuate the light. It will actually make the LED blink in sync with your heart rate.”

In the medical field, she said, much more complex machines use the same technique to study the heart and measure oxygen levels in the blood.

Each experiment, Anderson said, is created at a very low cost, so students can take the materials home with them.

In a few weeks, the Ohio State ECE Outreach team heads to Cincinnati and Colombia again, following up previous visits to Toledo and Dayton. Anderson often brings student volunteers along to help.

SPIE notes that detailed instructions for all Anderson’s projects are posted online at, for anyone to use. Those include directions for students, instructions and parts listed for teachers and Powerpoint presentations.

For more information on the @OhioStateECE Outreach program visit:




Tags: Faculty