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Presentation of the International Year of Light Report

On 3rd October 2016, the presentation of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technology 2015 (IYL 2015) final report was held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Delegates were invited from all over the world to celebrate what was achieved during IYL 2015, and to make plans to ensure its legacy going forward. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, following the IYL2015 Closing Ceremony, held in Mexico back in February 2016.

Light show at Chichen Itza, Mexico - part of the International Year of Light Closing Ceremony

The day began with an introduction from Romain Murenzi, Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity in Building for UNESCO. Mr Murenzi began by congratulating those who had attended and contributed to making the year such a success, raising the potential for light sciences as an effective element of sustainability. He highlighted that shared knowledge and open access to science will lead to a more inclusive world, commenting that the final report and the year overall gave a flavour of the potential for light and light-based technologies to act as a unifying force around the world.

John Dudley, Chair of the IYL 2015 Steering Committee echoed Mr Muranzi’s comments on the potential for light and science as a unifying force within his overview of IYL 2015. The collective effort to make the year a success was evident by contributions from 119 sponsors who raised €550,000 for a global fund to support centralised actions from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and UNESCO headquarters. However, the global fund was financed entirely from extra-budgetary resources with 55% of the funding coming from the private sector. Furthermore, global fund sponsorship only made up a small fraction of the total €15 million raised worldwide by local partners.

In relation to impact, Dudley outlined some of the major figures from the year including, activities in 147 countries on 7 continents, 13,168 local events tracked and recorded, 23,000 direct social media mentions from 120 countries with the equivalent advertising value of USD $348 million and 2.4 million website visits from 191 countries.

In terms of high-level support and patronage, IYL 2015 was supported by Queen Letizia of Spain, President Michael D. Higgins (Ireland), President Francois Hollande (France) and President Mahama (Ghana).

Dudley made special mention of the events which celebrated art and culture, as well as the science of lighting and used an image from the SLL’s Night of Heritage Light (NoHL), held on 1st October 2015 as part of his presentation of this. He went on to outline the important anniversaries which were celebrated during IYL 2015, including 1000 years since Ibn al Haytham’s, Kitāb al-Manāẓir or The Book of Optics.

NOHL in International Year of Light Final Report

Dudley then shifted the focus from the previous year, to what would come next and how we can work towards an enduring legacy for IYL 2015. Referencing the ongoing initiatives which promote the economic impact of light-based technologies, Dudley also highlighted the need to talk outside of the lighting community and to continue to communicate with policy makers around the world.

Focusing on the need to address issues around poverty, gender equality and sustainability, and to conclude his overview of IYL 2015 final report, Dudley quoted Nobel Laureate, Professor Ahmed Zewail; “The soft power of science has the potential to reshape global diplomacy.”

A panel of speakers were then invited to the stage to present on selected themes from IYL 2015. The first speaker was Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE who delivered his presentations, The UN Sustainable Develoment Goals: How can Photonics Help. As the title of his presentation suggests, Arthurs focused on the role that light-based technologies could play in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting that solar energy now makes up 6% of Germany’s electricity supply and is also the largest form of new energy added in the US in 2015. Arthurs went on to outline how solar power is being used for essential processes such as water desalinisation and treatment, which is both more sustainable and more affordable.

It reference to the development of new lighting technologies, Arthurs also highlighted that the growing use of LEDs could lead to a more sustainable future. With lighting making up 15% of electricity used globally, most of which is produced by fossil fuels, he explained that widespread use of LEDs in the US could save in the region of 348 TWh of energy by 2027. Additionally, LEDs make urban farming practical, along with developments in phototherapy, sterilization in medical equipment and water purification.

Arthurs also touched on LEDs as a practical light source for remote or off-grid areas, in relation to tackling light poverty, a topic also covered within the final paper and presentation the 2015 Young Lighter of the Year, Youmna Abdallah.
Additionally, as touched upon in the Sept/Oct SLL Newsletter, Arthurs described the role that photonics plays in the treatment and detection of disease, with improvements in medical imaging capabilities and photonics based field devices.

Following Eugene Arthurs was Lucia Marchetti from the Open University and the UK IYL2015 Outreach Chair with her presentation, Women in Science Outreach. Marchetti began by introducing Cosmic Light, which if you were following #IYL2015 on Twitter, you would have seen an awful lot of. Cosmic Light was a project during IYL 2015 which focused on astronomy awareness and light pollution themes. During IYL 2015 they ran 22 endorsed projects, and e-training EDU kit in 40 different countries, they produced 16000 Galileoscopes, as well as producing quality lighting kits and taking in 7000 measurements of the Globe at Night as part of a citizen science project.

Marchetti went on to identify the imbalance of the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, charting the drop off rates at each career step, with females making up only 28% of researchers in these fields. Marchetti went on to outline the importance of engaging with women as both participants in scientific research and as the beneficiaries as this would have a positive impact on children and education, the elderly and communities in general.

Earth Globe - Africa, Europe and Asia. Credit: NASA

Following Lucia Marchetti was Yanne Chembo, ERC Laureate, CNRS with his presentation The Year of Light in Africa. Chembo began by identifying the convergence between IYL 2015 and its areas of focus and Africa’s socio-economic interests. With regard to optical telecoms, 75% of African’s own a mobile phone and it is anticipated that by 2020, there will be over 150 million smart phones in use in Africa. Telecoms is also linked to 20% of the African economy. With regard to solar energy, 70% of sub-Saharan African’s have no access to electricity and solar energy production is increasing at 60% per year.

On this basis, Chembo emphasised the need to ensure the legacy of IYL 2015 in Africa by continuing to raise awareness on the benefits of light-based technology and in communicating effectively with African policy makers.

Barbara Keissler, Director of B2G Professional Lighting Global Public and Government Affairs for Philips Lighting was next to deliver her presentation, Off-Grid Lighting and Power for All. Keissler began by outlining factors which contribute to the increased demand for artificial lighting, including demographics, urbanisation and the rise of the middle-class, highlighting that current global trends indicate that there will be a 35% increase in light points by 2030 compared with 2006. Keissler reaffirmed the potential for LED lighting solutions to significantly reduce energy consumption, as well as paving the way for innovative new technologies which provide practical solutions of communities which are currently off-grid.

The next presentation, The Ibn Al-Haytham Legacy of IYL 2015 was delivered by Azzedine Boudrioua from the Université Paris VIII and the President of the Ibn Al-Haytham International Society. Boudrioua identified a number of issues relating specifically to the Arab States, which he believes the science community should be focusing on. These included the current slump which is hitting oil-rent economies hard and military spending which is eating into resources for development.

Boudrioua then went out to outline how the Ibn-Al Haytham International Society was founded during IYL 2015. The aims of the Society include promoting the work of Ibn Al-Haytham, but also to take his lead in informing debate on science and education in the Arab States and beyond.

The following presentation was delivered by Sara Schulz and was entitled, Refugee Outreach – Physics for All. Physics for All now covers 38 sites within Germany, running physics based programmes for refugees. In phase 1, the workshops included hands on science experiments with simple equipment, provided by the DPG (German Physical Society). Schulz commented that in the first 5 weeks, there over 1100 applications from enthusiastic volunteers which meant that over 500 volunteers could be established at the initial 20 sites.

In phase 2, the organisations involved were keen to look at ways that the programme could be made more professional and sustainable. The looked at ways that the infrastructure could be improved and they were also able to hire a dedicated coordinator. They then sought to integrate the programme with local schools, providing the option of a school or class tandem which worked  on a kids-for-kids principle.

The final presentation within the Partner Presentations section was by artist and engineer, Milène Guermont and was entitled, PHARES in Paris – light for the public. PHARES was a public light art installation in celebration of IYL 2015 which was situated beside the Obelisk, the oldest monument in Paris. The Obelisk is on the Place de la Concorde, which is also the location of the first test of public lighting in the world. When viewed from the right angle, the golden cap of the Obelisk, completed the flat top of the installation, making a pyramid. Car head lights were used as the primary light source, tying in with the traffic which circles the central island within the plaza. PHARES is also the first ever artwork to be put into the plaza on Place de la Concorde.

Following this series of presentations, Ana María Cetto, Director of the Museum of Light, Mexico and Instituto de Física, UNAM announced the potential for an International Day of Light. The aim of the International Day of Light would be to provide an annual focal point to appreciate the role that light plays in our lives, putting light in the centre of science, culture, education and to promote its benefits in fields such as medicine, communications, energy, industry, the environment and sustainable development. The day would also provide an enduring follow-up to IYL 2015, raising the profile of science and technology and its applications for improving quality of life worldwide. It has since been confirmed by UNESCO that the International Day of Light will take place each year on 16 May, beginning in 2018. This is a triumph for all those who contributed in the celebrations of IYL 2015.

Maciej Nalecz, the designated representative for the Director of Strategic European Programs at the Nencki Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, then discussed the soft power of UNESCO and science for peace. Nalecz echoed the need for science to be recognised and utilised as a tool for unity around the world, praising the proposal for an International Day of Light.

The final report was officially presented by Flavia Schlegel, Assistant Director-General for Natural Science at UNESCO. Schlegel commented that the final report is testimony of all of the different approaches to raising awareness of light and light-based technology, around the world. She also confirmed her support for addressing the minority participation of women in science, particularly at the highest levels, along with support for the International Day of Light.

Click here to access the International Year of Light final report