The annual B-Photonics Cup is a science competition among Belgian schools, set up by the VUB B-PHOT research group and Colruyt Group Technics. The challenge invites young people to create their own gadget of the future using light technology.

Tine De Pauw

Tine De Pauw

Tine De Pauw, STEM outreach officer at B-PHOT Brussels Photonics of VUB, is tasked with promoting photonics research to a broad audience, particularly in primary and secondary education. Part of this work is the annual B-Photonics Cup, in which students from the fifth and sixth year of secondary education develop a working prototype of their idea over the school year and present it to a professional jury. Participating teams receive a photonics course and a budget to buy their materials.

Why collaborate with Colruyt? 

Tine De Pauw: β€œLike many other companies, Colruyt faces a shortage of technically skilled staff. They knew we organise activities to engage young people in science and technology, which led to this joint project. It’s important for us to demonstrate what photonics involves, its potential uses, and the existing applications on the market. It’s a forward-looking technology, but students rarely have the opportunity to experiment with it in a school setting. The B-Photonics Cup offers them a STEM project where they can freely use technologies and bring their ideas to life.

β€œVUB believes it’s crucial to show that engineers need more than just mathematical and scientific skills. The creative aspect is also very important. That’s why we organise a wide range of STEM activities, including a science show, a photonics congress for secondary schools, lab visits and the Photonics Explorer educational package for classroom experimentation.”

"The creativity and freedom of such a task can initially be daunting, but afterwards, the students are pleasantly surprised"

Why did the smart mailbox win? 

β€œThe students from BA Pitzemburg in Mechelen excelled in all categories: photonics, innovation, prototype, video presentation and their pitch to the jury. Their smart mailbox works as follows: when mail is inserted, sensors detect it based on colour. They differentiate between white envelopes and coloured advertising papers. If it appears to be an important letter, a camera is activated which then sends a photo of it to your email.”

Winnaars slimme brievenbus

Is there commercial potential?

β€œThe goal of the competition isn’t to launch a product on the market but rather to develop and execute an idea. Most students aren’t used to such tasks; they usually spend their time buried in textbooks. The creativity and freedom involved in this task can initially be daunting, but by the end, they are often pleasantly surprised.”

Do you see them later at VUB? 

β€œSome of them spontaneously apply for an engineering degree. For us, it’s mainly important to positively highlight these fields of study and VUB in general.”