In this pilot module, Communicating with Light: From Smoke Signals to Fiber Optics, students become familiar with the elements of communications systems as well as with basic electronics, coding schemes, and the properties of light. Students master a limited number of powerful technology and science concepts, sense the excitement and challenge of technology, and develop critical thinking and reasoning skills that can be transferred to all disciplines. This instructive modular lab, supplemented with electronic, electro-optical, electrical and mechanical components, is recommended for use in grades 6-10 science and technology classes.
The key components are five electronic circuit boards (or modules) which accompany the written material. Modules 1 and 2 are very simple; Modules 3 and 4 are more advanced. The five Assembled Modules include: Light Sensor Module, Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Module, Voltage to Frequency Converter Module, Audio Modulator Module and Amplifier Module.
The written material, approximately 178 pages in length, describes a number of activities addressing light communication technology. Starting with simple low-technology flashing light communication systems and codes, students progress through voice-modulated signals employing optical fiber.
Technical topics covered include: signal codes, properties of light, transducers and simple circuitry. Sensory feedback is provided throughout the experiments with flashing lights, attractive colors, vibrating transducers, and interesting sounds.
- How People Communicate (talking, drawing, Braille, camera, drums, telephone, etc.)
- Experiment with Batteries / Bulbs (light emitting diode, building and testing the flashing light communicator)
- Coding and Sending Messages (morse code, flashing light, binary code, encoding transmitting, receiving and decoding messages)
- Improving Communication with Electronic Circuitry (light sensor, voltage to frequency converter, loud speaker, power supplies, input /output and how they are connected, electronic measurements, range and speed).
- Communicating with Optical Fiber
- Understanding the Properties of Light Which Makes Optical Fiber Communications Possible (reflection, deflection, total internal reflection, light following in curved path, light traveling through fiber, light splitting into two fibers, sending your voice over a beam of light, making an optical fiber coupler)
This modular lab includes:  Assembled Modules, Lab Manual,  AA Carbon Batteries, Fiber Cable, Light Bulbs, Speakers, Hookup Wire, Alligator Clips, and Plastic Parts for Light Devices. Other material will need to be supplied by the teacher in order to conduct activities (such as a c-clamp, milk, water, ruler, etc.). Grades 6-10 science and technology classes.
Project Comtech™ was created by the Science Education Department of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for AstroPyhsics, with support from the National Science Foundation.