Brilliant Beginning Gets Year of Light Off to a Bright Start

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Events in Taiwan, Sydney, Cardiff, Paris, San Francisco, and elsewhere across the globe have gotten the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies off to a superb start. Declared by the United Nations, the observance is supported by numerous organizations including Founding Partner SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

More than 1,000 participants heard a second day of inspiring talks at the International Year of Light opening ceremonies in Paris.

More than 1,000 participants heard a second day of inspiring talks at the International Year of Light opening ceremonies in Paris.

In just over two months, the IYL has been brilliantly successful in inspiring many people.

The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL) is off to a superb start, with thousands of scientists, diplomats, government officials, educators, students, artists, business executives, and others participating in hundreds of events to celebrate and raise awareness of the many uses of light in our lives. Declared by the United Nations, the IYL is supported by numerous organizations including Founding Partner SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Following New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney and the official opening of the observance at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, events have included an entry in a lantern festival in Taiwan attended by an estimated 8 million visitors, and numerous installations and presentations around the world demonstrating the principles and capabilities of light through artistic and technological displays.

In one of the most recent events, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, IYL Steering Committee Chair John Dudley, and Nobel Laureates Theodor Hänsch and John Hall were among speakers at the World Photonics Forum this week at Duke University (Durham, North Carolina, USA).

Later this month, the Japan Society for Precision Engineering symposium will feature IYL talks by SPIE President Toyohiko Yatagai and others.

Knowing what light-based science and technology can help provide toward the betterment of our lives is crucial to the technology’s continued ability to enable those advances, Arthurs said.

A few examples are optical methods to stimulate and treat Alzheimer’s, stroke, or other brain disorders without damaging the brain; sustainable energy systems that lessen the environmental impact of feeding our communities and getting people to their jobs; and sensors and imaging devices that warn of dangerous chemicals in the air or of food contamination.

“Photonics, the science and technology of light, enables a nearly uncountable number of devices, services, and abilities,” Arthurs said. “Some are highly visible, like the solar-powered batteries installed on rooftops in remote areas to run clean LED lighting that replaces kerosene or the need to continually gather fuel. Some are not as visible in our daily lives, such as the amazing telescopes that capture light from deep space and reveal the history of the universe.”

The photonics industry is also an important driver for economic growth, Arthurs noted. In the latest figures from SPIE analysts, the core photonics industry is responsible for $156 billion in revenues generated by 2,750 companies who provide 700,000 jobs.

"In just over two months, the IYL has been brilliantly successful in inspiring many people,” Arthurs said. “The observance has been well-received by the photonics community as a celebration of their contributions to the betterment of life on the planet. The community also has been quick to see that the International Year of Light offers a singular opportunity for outreach, and has applied its characteristic ingenuity to helping to raise awareness among the nontechnical community.”

In events to date, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led the official opening of the IYL during the two-day ceremony in January at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

In February, María Yzuel, chair of the Spanish Committee for the IYL, urged participants at the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona to “promote knowledge of how the science of light and light-based technologies improve our daily lives,”

At the UK-wide launch hosted by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, at St. James’ Palace in London in January, the prince commented that the observance is about how we are applying photonics “to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.”

Following on, kickoff events were held in Wales at the National Assembly, attended by representatives from the photonics industry as well as leaders from the culture and research sectors; at the first Northern Ireland Science Festival, celebrating the region’s contributions to science and rich heritage of science and innovation; and at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where demonstrations included the “laser harp,” an instrument made of lasers and detectors that plays musical notes when the beams are broken, and a presentation celebrating the life and work of Edinburgh-born physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

In Germany, the 30th Stuttgart Scientific Symposium in February was dedicated to the IYL, and culminated with light artists Jorg Miedza and Timo Rehpenning demonstrating real-time light art and long-exposure images.

An IYL event in Munich in February saw the re-opening of the planetarium of the Deutsches Museum Munich and a series of talks by scientists and photonics industry representatives including Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell of the Max-Planck Institute.

About SPIE

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. http://www.spie.org

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