An international effort to recognize optics and photonics technologies through an “International Year of Light” in 2015 is moving forward after receiving enthusiastic support from the UNESCO Executive Board in October.
Although a final declaration by the UN General Assembly is still needed, UNESCO’s 2012 approval of a resolution in favor of the IYOL initiative paves the way for a large-scale public awareness campaign about the essential role light-based technologies play in driving industry and enhancing life.
“The science and technology of light have revolutionized medicine, have opened up international communication via the Internet, and are central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of global society,” SPIE Fellow Paul Buah-Bassuah of Ghana’s Laser and Fibre Optics Centre at University of Cape Coast told the UNESCO board.
“Advances in light science and technology are crucial for sustainable development, preserving cultural heritage, and addressing climate change,” he said.
SPIE and more than 40 scientific societies and institutions, under the leadership of the European and African Physical Societies, have been pushing for the IYOL initiative since 2009.
If approved, a steering committee will coordinate educational and promotional activities during 2015 to show how light plays a central role in science, education, culture, and in improving the quality of life in developing world and in emerging economies.
The rainbow will be the symbol for the International Year of Light. Photo courtesy Brian Lula.
SPIE support said to be key to success
European Physical Society (EPS) President-Elect John Dudley, an SPIE member and professor at Université de Franche-Comté, is secretary of the IYOL Steering Committee. SPIE Member Angela Guzman of Florida Atlantic University (USA) and SPIE Fellow Chris Dainty from National University of Ireland also serve on the steering committee.
Dudley said SPIE’s level of involvement and support in advancing the initiative were essential to garnering support from UNESCO.
SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs serves on the international advisory board for the IYOL Steering Committee along with 2012 SPIE President Eustace Dereniak of University of Arizona (USA), 2011 SPIE President Katarina Svanberg of Lund University Hospital (Sweden), and SPIE Fellow Maria Calvo of Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain).
Dudley said that the 2015 International Year of Light program would go beyond the 2010 Laserfest events that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the laser. One of the key goals of the IYOL, he said, is to address the fact that despite the widespread influence of these essential technologies, they remain little understood or appreciated outside of the photonics field.
Optical solutions to problems
“Through this action, UNESCO has joined in advocacy of the profound importance of light in every facet of life,” Arthurs said. SPIE is continually working to raise awareness of photonics technology, he noted, especially the many high-value jobs it creates and its numerous applications that have — and will — solve pressing problems in vital areas such as food and water source management, communications, and healthcare.
As examples Arthurs cited inexpensive solar-powered solid-state lighting that has replaced toxic kerosene lamps for indoor use in some developing regions and remote-sensing instruments that can track crop health, major storms, and underground water sources from space.
“Industries based on light are major economic drivers; they create jobs, and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture, and health,” the EPS said.
Four themes for 2015 Year of Light
The International Year of Light will focus on four themes for outreach and educational activities.
“Science of Light” activities will show how studying the fundamental scientific properties of light impacts widely on all fields of science, technology, and engineering.
“Tools for the Future” will highlight examples of light as an enabling technology in medicine, communications, and energy. This theme will also highlight exciting emerging applications in the study and preservation of cultural heritage.
“Light for Development” will promote low-carbon-emission lighting such as those using solar power for environmental sustainability and improving the quality of life in the developing world. This theme will also stress the need for applying modern photonic devices to applications such as agriculture, disease prevention, and water purification.
The “Pioneers of Light” theme will draw attention to the human stories and contributions that have been made by virtually every major figure in science.