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'At the origin of all life': UNESCO backs International Year of Light!

"Light is at the origin of all of life," proponents of the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Light (IYOL) told the UNESCO Executive Board last week.

The board agreed at its meeting in Paris, giving its enthusiastic support to an international effort to recognize optics and photonics technologies through a year-long observance in 2015.

Rainbow photo
The rainbow is expected to be the symbol for
the International Year of Light.
Although a final declaration by the UN General Assembly is not quite a done deal, the UNESCO support paves the way for a large-scale effort to raise awareness of the essential role light-based technologies play in driving industry and enhancing life.

Why is awareness so important?.

"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. Representatives from Mexico, the Russian Federation, and New Zealand also participated in the presentation.

Further, Buah-Bassuah, said "Industries based on light are major economic drivers; they create jobs, and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. Light is also important to our appreciation of art, and optical technologies are essential in understanding and preserving cultural heritage.".

Looking forward, photonics technologies are crucial for enabling sustainable development and addressing climate change, he stressed.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and more than 40 scientific societies and institutions under the leadership of the European and African Physical Societies have been pushing for the initiative since 2009.

The activities of the IYOL will be coordinated by an International Steering Committee which will ensure effective action at both national and international levels.

"Through this action, UNESCO has joined in advocacy of the profound importance of light in every facet of life," said SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs, who serves on the international advisory board for the IYOL Steering Committee. SPIE is continually working to raise awareness of photonics technology, he said, especially the many high-value jobs it creates and its numerous applications that have and will solve pressing problems in communications, healthcare, food and water source management, and other vital areas.

As examples, Arthurs cited inexpensive solar-powered solid-state lighting that has replaced toxic kerosene for indoor use in some developing regions and remote-sensing instruments that can track crop health, major storms, and underground water sources from space.

EPS President-Elect John Dudley
(above, speaking at SPIE
Photonics Europe last April)
serves as secretary of the IYOL
Steering Committee.
European Physical Society President-Elect John Dudley, an SPIE member, professor at Université de Franche-Comté, and secretary of the IYOL Steering Committee, said that the 2015 program would go beyond the celebratory nature of the 2010 Laserfest events that marked the 50th anniversary of the laser. One of the key goals, Dudley said, is to address the fact that despite the widespread influence of these essential optical technologies, they remained little understood or appreciated outside of the photonics field.

Want to get involved as a partner? Check out the prospectus for contact information.

Help ensure increased awareness around the world of the value of light-based technologies in meeting the needs of humankind.

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