Light is power, inspiration, source of life

United Nations' International Year of Light launched by high-profile, diverse speakers

19 January 2015

UNESCO "Light is Here"

"Light is Here" -- a light artwork gracing the UNESCO builidng -- aptly highlights the site of the International Year of Light opening ceremonies. (See more photos from the event below.)


Ahmed Zewail
Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail
Steven Chu
Nobel Laureate Steven Chu
Ziad Aldrees
UNESCO Ambassador
Ziad Aldrees
Zohra Ben Lakhdar
L'Oreal-UNESCO Science Laureate
and SPIE Fellow Zohra Ben Lakhdar

PARIS, France, and BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- 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." Later, U.S. National Science Foundation director France Córdova stressed the importance of basic research in the discovery of new applications for light.

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 has 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 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 235,000 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 $3.4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014.

Day 2 report: Solutions enabled by light inspire at International Year of Light celebration

International Year of Light advocates Anthony Johnson,Philip Stahl, John Dudley, Ana María Cetto

SPIE Members (from left) Anthony Johnson, Philip Stahl (SPIE Immediate Past President and Fellow), John Dudley, and Ana María Cetto are four of the five representative advocates who introduced the idea for an International Year of Light to the United Nations in 2013.


Robert Lieberman, Toyohiko Yatagai, Steven Chu

SPIE President-Elect Robert Lieberman and SPIE President Toyohiko Yatagai with Nobel Laureate Steven Chu.


Joe Niemela, France Cordova, William Phillips

Joe Niemela of the ICTP and the IYL 2015 Secretariat with presenters U.S. National Science Foundation Director France Cordova and Nobel Laureate William Phillips.


Ngāti Rānana London Maori Club

A performance by the Ngāti Rānana London Maori Club from New Zealand was one of several presentations in a session on Light for Humanity and Culture.


All photos © SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics


Amy Nelson
Public Relations Manager
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