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Solutions enabled by light inspire at International Year of Light celebration

Speakers report on technologies both simple and futuristic at UNESCO-hosted event

20 January 2015

International Year of Light opening at UNESCO in Paris

The closing of this week's IYL 2015 ceremonies in Paris marks the beginning of a year of activities, observed UNESCO's Maciej Nalecz (above). More than 1,000 participants gathered at the UNESCO headquarters for the two-day event.


PARIS, France, and BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Optical technologies for simple lighting, inexpensive eyeglasses, and solar power were among the many and varied applications of light celebrated during the second day of ceremonies this week at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The event drew more than 1,000 participants to help launch the United-Nations-declared International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015).

It was one of the first IYL 2015 events in an year-long 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.

In a well-received and inspiring session on Light Solutions, three presenters described highly successful programs that are making huge improvements in quality of life in several areas of the world.

Illac Diaz told how A Liter of Light is using very low technology -- a plastic bottle filled with water and chlorine -- to create a 55-watt solar bulb powerful enough to light up a home while being environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and easy to make.

Martin Aufmuth described how OneDollarGlasses is changing lives by providing locally manufactured glasses at low cost to some of the approximately 150 million people worldwide who need prescription eyeglasses but cannot afford them -- and who may be unable to work to earn money without them. The program also teaches people in the community how to make the glasses, furthering opening the path out of  the cycle of poverty.

Linda Wamune explained the SunnyMoney program, which provides solar-powered lights and chargers in African communities to enable more hours in the day for activities such as studying. Wamune said that the program is successful in part because the lights are sold rather than given away. People in Africa can afford such small technology devices, she said, and they place more value on what has been purchased, as the perception is that items that are given away are of lesser quality.

Nobel Laureate William Phillips started the day with a dynamic, crowd-pleasing demonstration using liquid nitrogen. Fellow Nobelists Serge Haroche and Zhores Alferov gave thought-provoking and visionary talks - Haroche on how light reveals the quantum nature of physical reality, and Alferov on how heterostructures enable the creation of new structures with unique and superior electrical, optical, and mechanical properties.

Future of Light panelist Sune Svanberg  (Lund University) made the audience laugh with a slide explaining the few "simple" steps to winning a Nobel prize. He joined fellow panelists Alain Aspect (UNESCO Niels Bohr Medal Laureate), SPIE Fellow Bernard Kress (Google [X]), and 2014 SPIE Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award winner Brian Wilson (Ontario Cancer Institute)  in describing future applications of light in healthcare, computing and wearable technologies, and research.

A roundtable discussion on science policy moderated by Jose Mariano Gago, Portugal's former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, emphasized science as a tool for development.

Gago encouraged nations to cooperate and improve the dialog about science policy at an international level. Science, he said, "can be a source of peace or a source of conflict, a source of war or a source of development. It must rely on knowledge and trust."

Panelist Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Science and Technology, pointed out a disconnect between Africa and the rest of the world, saying that the continent is often excluded from initiatives that are nominally "global." The continent needs to raise its profile with well-crafted science policy, building human capital in a wide range of disciplines, and making sure researchers have academic freedom and the infrastructure to work, she said.

Ana María Cetto noted that international cooperation can be a catalyst, but if countries don't come up with their own solutions, "whatever comes from outside may help, but it does not replace what countries do themselves."

"Every closing is an opening," observed Maciej Nalecz, UNESCO Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity-Building -- the closing of IYL 2015 ceremonies are just the beginning of a year full of activities.

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.

Day 1 report: Light is power, inspiration, source of life

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.

Amy Nelson
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