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A Partnership Forged in Light: SPIE and IDL Illuminate Optics and Photonics


Optical fiber networks, the inner workings of smartphones, light painting, and Laser Pink Floyd: there are myriad ways in which light impacts our lives, and on 16 May, UNESCO’s second International Day of Light (IDL) will celebrate them all. This year’s flagship event in Trieste will showcase just some of the areas – science, sustainable development, health, art, and communications – in which light creates and enables critical benefits.

The overall program, Illuminating Education, will include a presentation by University of Auckland’s Cather Simpson (“Using Physics to Feed the Planet”); the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Stephen Pompea showcasing the fruits of public engagement within his field; and Imperial College London’s Jess Wade describing her next-generation, OLED research as well as her efforts to address gender imbalance in science.

“The International Day of Light is an awesome opportunity to celebrate the science of light and scientists who work with optics and photonics,” notes Wade, who is delighted to be participating in the one-day program. “Whether it is in solar panels, materials characterization or medical diagnostics, light has transformed the way we live today. As physicists, it’s easy to assume everyone is as excited as we are about light, but there is much more we could be doing to improve enthusiasm and access to science education and research.”

As a member of the IDL steering committee, SPIE will play an integral part during the Trieste event: longtime SPIE Member and member of its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee Perla Marlene Viera-Gonzàlez will be sharing her science outreach experiences alongside members of other international scientific societies.

That same day, SPIE launches its annual IDL photo competition, and, around the world, communities will be sharing the benefits of light and celebrating light with the support of an SPIE IDL Micro Grant. From the US to Ukraine, here’s just a sample of the many ways in which light will be heralded, shared, and celebrated across the globe:

  • Flowers and Photonics: The SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Rochester will be participating in the town’s historic Lilac Festival. Their “Light & Lilacs” event will engage community members with fun and entertaining optics demonstrations. 
  • Light in our Life: In Uncasville, Connecticut, the St. Bernard School will be running their second annual IDL photo contest, running an educational and invitational campaign throughout Spring on optics and photonics, via posters, light-based applications presentations in classes, and a workshop during the Math Honor Society’s monthly meeting. 
  • Talking Through Light: The Photonics Society of Ghent, Belgium, is holding a city-center, open-to-the-public event that explains how light can be modulated to enable the transfer of information.
  • Pop-up Museum of Light: In Tucuman, Argentina, the Instituto de Luz Ambiente y Visión is hosting host an array of events from 11-31 May to highlight the fundamental role light plays in daily life. 
  • IDeasforLife: The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Radiophysics and Electronics in Kharkiv, Ukraine, is creating an exciting mix of activities, from scientific lectures and tours of the Institute’s optical laboratory, to optics-focused quests for secondary and high-school students, and optics games for children.

From the fun and creative, to the educational, informational, and innovative, SPIE is proud to support our constituents’ and community’s efforts to share the wonders of light, and to lead as active role models of outreach in their schools, institutes, and public spheres.

During its annual observance, UNESCO’s International Day of Light offers the perfect platform from which to celebrate light in all its various glories, but, ultimately, there’s no need to restrict it to May 16. Whether you’re flicking a switch to turn on an electrical light, basking happily under the sun, or wielding optical tweezers during a laser-led biomedical procedure, take a moment to blink, think, and let in the light.

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