International Year of Light Illuminates Paris

Ben Eggleton

The opening ceremony for the International Year of Light was a two-day celebration of the wonderful and diverse ways in which human society is uplifted by our interaction with light. The ceremony was most aptly held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, a city known for centuries as The City of Light.

UNESCO itself was founded in the aftermath of World War Two as an organization designed to build lasting world peace by encouraging all of humankind to work in solidarity towards a common future where democracy, development and human dignity are available to all. UNESCO strives to achieve this goal by promoting education as a human right, fostering intercultural understanding, pursuing scientific cooperation and protecting freedom of expression.

Over the two days participants were led through this journey by a range of people who have made understanding light the focus of their life’s work. In line with UNESCO’s goals, the organizers put together an event that celebrated the scientific, economic and social impacts of how light is used, offering a fascinating overview of the way a seemingly small innovation in one area can have profound impact in the lives of many.

Presentations ranged from Nobel Prize winners explaining how our understanding of light informs our understanding of the foundations of the cosmos, to grassroots workers showing how bringing eyeglasses to isolated African villages or light into the homes of the poorest slum dwellers can fundamentally change human lives for the better. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity for all of us to lift our focus from the specifics of our own work and see the way that science interconnects with human societies around the globe.

This diversity in the presentations gave rise to stimulating conversations of the intersection of physics, technology, development and society. The International Year of Light asks us to expand our intellectual horizons when we consider the impact of our work.

Over the next twelve months, there will be a host of activities, festivals and events across Australia to celebrate importance of light in our daily lives. Harvard University’s Professor Federico Capasso will be at the University of Sydney on 17 March for our first International Year of Light event, the Dr Peter Domachuk Memorial Lecture