Light Is Power, Inspiration, Source, Say International Year of Light Speakers

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Perspectives from across the globe on the importance of light in all our lives were shared on the first of two days of International Year of Light opening ceremonies at the UNESCO offices in Paris. The United-Nations-declared observance is a singular opportunity to communicate about the impacts of light in areas such as energy, education, communications, and health, say organizers including Founding Partner SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The Eiffel Tower provides emphasis to a light artwork on the UNESCO headquarters building celebrating the International Year of Light.

The Eiffel Tower provides emphasis to a light artwork on the UNESCO headquarters building celebrating the International Year of Light.

We only get one chance. It is nice to celebrate but we need to get to work as well.

Paris, the City of Light, is home this week to opening ceremonies launching the United-Nations-declared International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) this week. High-level speakers took the stage at UNESCO headquarters today to celebrate the many uses and roles of light in our lives.

Light is solar power installations and LEDs bringing light to remote communities; it is what enables instantaneous communication across the globe and into space via phones and computers; it is a source of artistic inspiration for visual artists and musicians, and plays a role in most of the world’s theologies. Light is also the source of life, pointed out renowned Mexican architect Gustavo Avilés, saying, ”Light is the sex act between Earth and the sky.”

The launch is one of the first IYL 2015 events in an observance intended to raise awareness of the importance of light-based technologies in providing solutions to worldwide challenges in areas such as energy, education, communications, and health. SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, is a Founding Partner of IYL 2015.

More than a thousand participants are in Paris for the two-day event, with speakers including international diplomats and decision-makers, Nobel laureates, CEOs, and science and industry leaders from across the globe.

Keynote lectures, symposia, and round-table discussions cover areas of basic science, innovative lighting solutions for society, light pollution, emerging trends in photonics, the Einstein Centenary, the role of light-based technologies in addressing global challenges, light in art and culture, the history of science, and science policy.

On Monday morning, Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail called for dialogue, not conflict, and vision and leadership to address the world’s needs.

Fellow Nobelist Steven Chu stressed the promise of solar power, and said there is “less than a 1-in-27-million chance that Earth's record hot streak is natural.”

Ziad Aldrees, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, harkened back to the scientific contributions of Ibn al-Haytham, whose seminal Book of Optics was written around 1015, and others working in the “Golden Age” of Muslim civilization.

Hearing from a wide variety of speakers provided a really broad perspective on how light impacts our society, said Anne-Sophie Poulin-Girard, a Université Laval student who is among the participants.

“Representatives from the countries who introduced the idea of IYL to UNESCO -- Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand (the first country to see the Sun each morning), Russia and Saudi Arabia -- had the opportunity to talk about light in their countries and in the world as well and why it is important for them,” Poulin-Girard said. “We heard the world premiere of three compositions by Bruce Adolphe written for the movie ‘Einstein's Light,’ played by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Marija Stroke. I was happy to see that magic of light posters and the SPIE members' initiative logo translation project have made it to the Hall of UNESCO.”

John Dudley of Université de Franche-Comté, president of the European Physical Society and chair of the IYL global steering committee, pointed out the importance of the IYL 2015 observance to the optics and photonics community as a means to communicate the importance of the technologies in everyone’s lives. “We only get one chance,” he said. “It is nice to celebrate but we need to get to work as well.”

The program features several cultural and musical interludes, and the outside of the UNESCO building is lit by Finnish light artist Kari Kola with a display entitled “Light is Here” reflecting the powerful elements of the Northern lights.

Nobel Laureates Zhores Alferov, William Phillips, and Serge Haroche are among Tuesday’s scheduled speakers.

IYL 2015 was adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health. With UNESCO as lead agency, IYL 2015 programs promote improved public and political understanding of the central role of light in the modern world while also celebrating noteworthy anniversaries in 2015 — from the first studies of optics 1,000 years ago to discoveries in optical communications that power the Internet today. The IYL Global Secretariat is located at the Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

Founding Partners of IYL 2015 are the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the American Physical Society (APS), the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG), the European Physical Society (EPS), the Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), the IEEE Photonics Society (IPS), the Institute of Physics (IOP), Light: Science and Applications, the lightsources.org International Network, 1001 Inventions, The Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Patron Sponsors include Bosca, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), Royal Philips Lighting, Thorlabs, and UL.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014.

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