Brilliant beginning gets Year of Light off to a bright start

IYL launches with fireworks, art, music, science, and technology around the world

11 March 2015
International Year of Light at Duke University, John Hall, Robert Lieberman, John Dudley
From left, Nobel Laureate John Hall, SPIE President-Elect Robert Lieberman, and IYL Steering Committee Chair John Dudley celebrate the International Year of Light wearing IYL2015 ties designed by SPIE, at Duke University's World Photonics Forum 9-10 March.

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA, and CARDIFF, UK -- 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.

Tribute to optical pioneer Alhazen
Tributes at the IYL launch in January
UNESCO in Paris included displays
harkening back to the scientific
contributions of Ibn al-Haytham,
whose seminal Book of Optics was
written around 1015, and
working in the "Golden Age"
Muslim civilization.

Following on 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 latest events, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs; IYL Steering Committee Chair John Dudley; Nobel Laureates Theodor Hänsch and John Hall; SPIE President-Elect Robert Lieberman; SPIE Fellows Federico Capasso, Andrew Forbes, and Tuan Vo-Dinh; and SPIE Member Cristina Kurachi were speakers at the World Photonics Forum this week at Duke University, in the United States.

Later this month, the Japan Society for Precision Engineering symposium will feature IYL talks by SPIE President Toyohiko Yatagai, symposium chair and SPIE Member Yasuhiko Arai, and SPIE Fellows James Wyant and Russell Chipman.

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.

He listed a few examples: 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."

Beyond technical capabilities, 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 thousands of people," Arthurs said. "From the start, 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 observance offers a singular opportunity for outreach, and has applied its characteristic ingenuity to designing and deploying events, displays, and presentations to help raise awareness among the nontechnical community."

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

Lluís Claret and María Yzuel
Cellist Lluís Claret, left, and Spain
IYL lead María Yzuel participated in
ceremonies in Barcelona in February.

In Spain, the IYL opening ceremony on 16 February at the Poliorama Theatre of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona drew 500 attendees. "We must promote the knowledge of how the science of light and light-based technologies improve our daily lives," SPIE Past President María Yzuel, chair of the Spanish Committee for the IYL, urged participants.

A UK-wide launch hosted by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, at St. James's Palace in London 28 January was followed by celebratory events in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland in February. The celebration, noted Prince Andrew, an IYL patron in the UK, "is about how we are applying light, photonics and various other aspects in order to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for future generations."

The 5 February kickoff event in Wales at the National Assembly was attended by representatives from the photonics industry, culture, and research, including Edwina Hart, the Welsh Minister for Economy, Science and Transport; Beth Taylor of the Institute of Physics, chair of the UK IYL Committee; Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales; and Louise Jones, Knowledge Transfer Manager at ESP KTN.

The Northern Ireland launch on 19 February was part of the first Northern Ireland Science Festival, which included over 100 events celebrating the contribution that Northern Ireland makes to science and its rich heritage of science and innovation.

The IYL 2015 launch in Scotland 23 February at the Royal Society of Edinburgh included an evening of science, exhibitions, demonstrations, music, and poetry. Exhibits included the demonstration of the "laser harp," an instrument made of lasers and detectors that played musical notes when the beams were broken. Other displays in Scotland explored topics such as optical tweezers and optical detectors to identify explosives and lung disease, and one combined poetry, photography, and light-based science and another celebrating the life and work of Edinburgh-born physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

Stefan Hell and Eugene Arthurs
Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, left,
and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs at
the IYL launch in Munich.

In Germany in Februrary, the 30th Stuttgart Scientific Symposium, chaired by Wolfgang Osten, a member of the SPIE Board of Directors and a professor at the Institut fur Technische Optik (ITO) at University of Stuttgart, was dedicated to the IYL.

Speakers included Osten, Yatagai, and Arthurs; SPIE Fellows James, Anand Asundi, and Andreas Ostendorf; and Michael Mertin, president of JENOPTIK and Photonics21. The program included a presentation to Hanz Tiziani, an SPIE Fellow who founded the first optics colloquium in Stuttgart in 1984, 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. Some 250 participants included Edward Georg Krubasik, president of the German Physical Society; Olaf Berlien, CEO of OSRAM; and Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell of the Max-Planck Institute.

InternationInternational Year of Light at Duke University, Robert Lieberman, Theodor Hänschobert Lieberman, Theodor Hänsch
SPIE President-Elect Robert Lieberman (at left) and Nobel Laureate Theodor Hänsch at Duke University's World Photonics Forum
International Year of Light at SPIE Photonics West
At Photonics West in February in San Francisco, major displays emphasized the importance of light-based technologies and honored historical figures for their contributions to optics and photonics; above a display in the lobby.
International Year of Light launch at Buckingham Palace
The International Year of Light was launched in the United Kingdom at St. James's Palace in February, one of numerous launch events around the world.
International Year of Light launch at St. James's Palace
At St. James's Palace for the UK launch in February, from left, SPIE Board of Directors member and Fellow Keith Lewis (Scovis Ltd.), Ray Sambles (University of Exeter), and Prince Andrew.

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.



Amy Nelson
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