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Why Light? María Josefa Yzuel, SPIE Fellow and Past President Answers

March is Women's History Month, and we close out the month interviewing SPIE Fellow and Past President María Josefa Yzuel for our 'Why Light?' series. Emeritus Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Yzuel works tirelessly to promote women in science, serving as a leading member of the SPIE Women in Optics group. She took time to answer questions from our series that leads up to the first International Day of Light, and explains why she feels that light is so important.

The inaugural International Day of Light – IDL – will take place 16 May 2018. IDL is a global initiative that provides an annual focal point for the continued appreciation of light. This day recognizes light and the vital role it plays in science, culture and art, education, and sustainable development.

On 16 May, join SPIE and communities worldwide by participating in activities that illustrate how the science and art of light improves all our lives. For more information and to plan your own event, visit

Meet SPIE Fellow María Josefa Yzuel,
Past SPIE President
Professor Emeritus, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

What about light inspires you?

When I started my PhD thesis I selected optics as a part of physics related with light and nature. The laser was already invented (recently). The possibility of developing new optical instruments and improving the quality of the image formation in the classical devices was very attractive for me. The use of optics in other fields of physics and science in general.

How can light help overcome a current global challenge?

Light-based technologies can help in many of the goals of UNESCO for a global sustainable development. In the activities for the International Year of Light, we have shown society the importance of light and light-based technologies in fields like health, communications and information, environment, art, education, and others.

What do you do to share your passion for light?

It is important to make the society aware of the importance of light and light-based technologies in their lives. By appealing to the younger generation of students we may convince them of the beauty of the study and research in optics and photonics. This is a way of attracting talented students for physics and engineering. As President of the Spanish Committee for the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (2015) I promoted many activities in Spain. I participated in some of them also in other countries. I have given many outreach talks in schools and in cultural associations. I hope to continue doing the same in the coming celebrations of the International Day of Light. We have renewed the Spanish Committee for the International Year of Light and added some more members. We are already very active in preparing many activities along May 2018. The main celebration in Spain in 2018 will take place in Madrid (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) on the 16th of May. Moreover, there will be many more activities: outreach talks, open doors for students in research institutes, and exhibitions in other cities of Spain.


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