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A shining celebration

On 16 May, the first International Day of Light celebrated the role of light and related technologies in science, art, education and sustainable development. Here we round up some of what occurred the day

The International Day of Light (IDL), a legacy activity of the highly successful 2015 International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL), included more than 13,000 activities that took place in 147 countries, reaching an estimated audience of more than 100 million, according to SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The launch of IDL, which will now be held each year on 16 May, was launched by UNESCO to provide an annual focal point for the continued appreciation of the central role that light plays in the lives of the citizens of the world, following on from the success of the IYL in 2015. The date of 16 May marks the anniversary of the first successful operation of a laser by physicist and engineer Theodore Maiman in 1960.

SPIE is an IDL steering committee member and has been a leader in launching and supporting both the IYL and the IDL.

The inauguration of the IDL took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, which included a range of presentations, such as two talks by Nobel Laureates, and two roundtables that saw discussion of topics such as the importance of light in science and culture, and the need for improved science-policy dialogue. A special message in support of the International Day of Light was received from the International Space Station, and teacher-student representatives from one of UNESCO’s Associated Schools spoke on the importance of UNESCO support for their learning activities.

Cultural events also marked the inaugural celebration, with exterior illumination of the UNESCO headquarters by Kari Kola, and an immersive light show by Nono Maya and Ocubo. And in what was a first for UNESCO, artists, diplomats and scientists combined together to create a massive light-painting mural inside the UNESCO auditorium.

The International Day of Light was widely celebrated worldwide with hands-on activities in schools, festivals, scientific conferences, light-painting installations, open labs, night-sky observations, workshops, competitions, online activities, lectures and more.

‘Together, we have made the first International Day of Light 16 May celebration a success,’ said the IDL steering committee chair John Dudley. ‘Now it is time to keep working together and start thinking about the 2019 edition to make this a celebration that will pave the way for the years to come.’

Some of the international events

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Universidad Metropolitana informed people about how photonics helped the local community prepare for and recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017.

Satellite imagery provided vital information on the strength, size and track of the storm, and that information was transmitted on the internet over fibre optic and distributed worldwide. Following the storm, internet hotspots were available where the fibres ran underground, and thus survived the disaster. Solar panels were used to charge batteries, which are still in place today, providing power to homes cut off from the electrical grid. Hardening these systems for the future will mean more fibres and panels.

Tiruchirappalli, India 

Supported by SPIE, the National Institute of Technology organised three days of activities. This involved educating villagers on the importance of light and light technology, explaining the science of light using optical kits and providing the opportunity to watch the night sky using a galileoscope. A tour to the local observatory was organised for viewing the cosmos, in addition to an open star gazing and astrophotography session in the institute using the cente’s Newtonian reflector telescope.

Richland, USA

A celebration of gravitational waves and light was held at the LIGO Hanford Observatory, which combined art and science to celebrate the ground breaking detection on 17 August 2017 of a binary neutron star collision. This detection set off a flurry of observation making it one of the most observed astronomical events in history.

Public tours were conducted at the observatory, in addition to talks discussing this exciting event, performances by the Mid-Columbia Ballet's senior company and local students displaying LIGO-inspired art.

Leiden, The Netherlands

The visitor centre of the Old Observatory in Leiden offered various educational activities related to light alongside the regular exhibit. The activities were presented as a walk-in workshop with a supervisor, where visitors could join in at any time and explore science by themselves. The materials used were low-cost, high quality resources in the spirit of Universe Awareness and were used to develop a special light education kit for underprivileged communities.

Frankfurt, Germany

SPIE and Spectaris, the German high-tech industry association, held a drinks reception during the Optatec trade show which was co-located with the SPIE Optical Systems Design conference. Spectaris also raised awareness of the IDL beforehand by distributing educational posters to high schools, universities and government authorities.

In Regensburg, members of the public celebrated IDL together with the International Museum Day, inside the Natural History Museum on 13 May. Four sessions where children could take part in hands-on experiments from the Optics Suitcase, provided by The Optical Society, were held. An interactive exhibition also ran in parallel.

Medellín, Colombia

An evening of science was organised by several Columbian universities and organisations, which included a panel discussion on the ‘Trends of light in science, technology and innovation,’ featuring four professors with experience in both academia and industry. Afterwards, one of the city’s squares, located in front of the Planetarium, hosted cultural events, which included scientific monologues with a humorous touch, a projection of short documentaries, and a dance presentation.

Tomsk, Russia

The Tomsk Polytechnic University held various events to photonics to the public. Its laser technology laboratory, laser engraving laboratory, and pulse and optical spectrometry laboratory opened their doors for visitors.

There was a competition to recognise creative projects of students and schoolchildren, with scholars taking part. Students were judged on presentations and reports and their innovative ideas. The winners were awarded with prizes.

Lectures and master classes were also held to demonstrate bright optical phenomena for scholars and students.

Prague, Czech Republic

The Hilase laser research centre located in Dolní Břežany, south of Prague, hosted an open day for the general public. Two lectures on the principle of the laser and its applications in science and everyday life, and interactive workshops (light diffraction, laser soap bubbles, or simulation of an eye operation using optical elements) were held. Moreover, visitors got the chance to see the super ‘Bivoj’ laser for the first time. This laser broke the 1,000W average power barrier in 2016. The Bivoj super laser weighs in at around 20 tonnes and cost €44 million to produce. The name ‘Bivoj’ is inspired by Czech mythology. 

Auckland, New Zealand

The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonics and Quantum Technologies and the University of Auckland hosted an International Day of Light Historic Science Fair. Volunteers set up interactive stations to demonstrate the importance of light in everyday life, with some dressing up as famous scientists.

Also in Auckland, Vector, a power distribution company installed many thousands of coloured LEDs on the Harbour Bridge.

Quebec City, Canada

Supported by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, members of the Université Laval installed a public standalone platform at the heart of Quebec City to allow participants of all ages to experience optical phenomena in fun and interactive ways. Visual and qualitative support described the importance of light in people’s day-to-day lives.

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