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SPIE Professional January 2012

International Year of Light: Proposal clears important hurdle

The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) endorsed the International Year of Light (IYOL) project in early November, opening the doors to consideration by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), after the 27th IUPAP General Assembly held in London.

"There was tremendous interest in the proposal's goals and ambition to broadly impact many different areas of science," said SPIE member John Dudley of Université de Franche-Comté in France, secretary for the Steering Committee and Secretariat. Dudley is chairman of the Quantum Electronics and Optics Division of the EPS.

"The IUPAP General Assembly has now endorsed the proposal with strong support, noting particularly the aims to promote education and to improve the quality of life of citizens in the developing world," he said.

Members of the International Advisory Board, including SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs and SPIE 2011 President Katarina Svanberg, presidents of the European Physical Society, the IEEE Photonics Society, and OSA assembled in London to present the Year of Light's objectives to the leaders of the physics community.

Cecilia Jarlskog, Lund University (Sweden) & IUPAP President; Sukekatsu Ushioda, National Institute for Materials Sciences (Japan) and IUPAP Past-President; Robert Kirby-Harris, Institute of Physics (IOP) and IUPAP Secretary General; and Rudzani Nemutudi, iThemba Labs (South Africa) and IUPAP Associate Secretary General


IYOL, proposed for 2015, would be a global initiative to highlight to the citizens of the world the importance of light and optical technologies in their lives, futures, and the development of society.

The project includes various activities that would continue through the year based on four themes: the Science of Light, Tools for the Future, Light for Development, and Pioneers of Light. All activities will include events or communication from leading scientists in the field. A Year of Pioneers will follow a 12-month calendar where each month will highlight a particular scientist.

The year 2015 was chosen because of important milestones that date back 50, 100, 150 and 200 years, beginning with Augustin Jean Fresnel's 1815 publication of his first work introducing the theory of light as a wave. In 1915, the theory of General Relativity developed by David Hilbert and Albert Einstein showed how light was at the center of the structure of space and time.

While the details of events and programs are still to be organized, the underlying message of IYOL is how light-based technologies directly respond to the needs of humankind by providing access to information, promoting sustainable development, and increasing societal well-being.

The next step is to submit the proposal to the UNESCO to receive approval.

Qihuang Gong and Eugene Arthurs at meetingAlong with Arthurs and Svanberg, others serving on the international advisory board for the steering committee are 2012 SPIE President Eustace Dereniak and SPIE Fellow Maria Calvo.

SPIE Member Angela Guzman of Florida Atlantic University, James Coleman of the University of Illinois, a recipient of the 2011 SPIE Technology Achievement Award; and SPIE Fellow Chris Dainty of the National University of Ireland are serving on the IYOL Steering Committee.

Qihuang Gong of Peking University (pictured on left with Arthurs above) represented the Chinese Optical Society in endorsing the project at the IUPAP General Assembly.

Milestones in light

  • 1615: France's Salomon de Caux invents a prototype solar-driven engine
  • 1815: Fresnel introduces the theory of light as a wave
  • 1865: James Clerk Maxwell rigorously describes the electromagnetic theory of light
  • 1915: Hilbert and Einstein develop theory of relativity, showing how light is at the center of the very structure of space and time
  • 1965: Arno Allan Penzias and Robert W. Wilson discover the cosmic microwave background, an electromagnetic echo of the very creation of the universe. 
Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201201.25

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