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An International Inspiration: Attending the International Day of Light 2019 Celebration in Trieste

John Dudley and Perla Viera in Trieste
Perla Marlene Viera González, an SPIE Early Career Professional Member working at the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, represented the SPIE Student and ECP Membership at the International Day of Light 2019 celebration in Trieste, 16 May. She shares with this community her experiences at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and the impact of taking part in this annual day of recognizing light.

The International Day of Light brings together culture and science.
 — SPIE John Dudley, Steering Committee Chair of IDL

This phrase was part of the message given by John Dudley during the introduction to the International Day of Light 2019 at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. And it reflects the importance of bringing together the science, technology, culture, and art that involves light in this emblematic celebration.

This year, the IDL celebration was about “Illuminating Education,” and for the event participants, we enjoyed talks about science outreach, development, art, and education that reflect the diversity of projects done to improve the world where we live using optics and photonics.

The official program began with a keynote presentation that explains light phenomena at four levels: rays, waves, polarization, and quantum, where Sir Michael Berry, University of Bristol and ICTP Distinguished Lecturer, showed us how to engage a wide audience using pictures to explain light.

From the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Stephen Pompea spoke about outreach and how to communicate about light. He explained that setting engagement as the goal of an event rather than outreach shifts the focus to the audience, because engagement is based on participation from your audience and not on the people organizing the event. Rachel Won, international editor of Nature Photonics, also spoke about science communication, explaining that as a science editor, you become an ambassador of science. Finally, Federica Beduini, outreach and science communicator at ICFO recommended we “act locally and think globally” when conducting outreach projects.

After lunch, we had the opportunity to hear about the diverse challenges facing science and education. The first presenter was Krisinda Plenkovich, director for education and community services at SPIE, who explained how photonics is used to achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. During the second talk, Brian Liebe, director of standards and research for the Illuminating Engineering Society, discussed that everything—every career path—is touched by light, and we need to pull together science, engineering, and art.

Later, John O’Hagan, director of Division 6 “Photobiology and Photochemistry” of the International Commission on Illumination, described the importance of public awareness and education around lighting quality. He challenged us to take common sense into account when we are thinking about how to implement new technology, looking for the better solution. For the final presentation of the session, Prajna Khanna, head of corporate social responsibility and director at Signify Foundation, talked about her organization and remarked on the importance of adapting the technology to the reality of each environment.

The second keynote talk was about development challenges, specifically, how we can use physics to feed the planet, presented by Cather Simpson. Simpson, who won the third place in the 2018 SPIE Startup Challenge, is a professor of physics and chemical sciences at the University of Auckland where she also started the Photon Factory. She explained different projects that use photonics to feed the people, such as vertical farms, harvesting the sun, and improving milk production. She gave inspirational examples about how to use light science and technology to improve our lives and make the world a better place for everyone.

For the artistic segment of the event, John Taylor, director of the Executive Office at The Optical Society, presented a documentary about an art installation in Washington DC to celebrate IDL 2019 and award-winning photographer Saurabh Narang explained some of his most amazing photographs.

For the third segment of the event, we heard Jess Wade, postdoctoral physicist at Imperial College London and gender equity advocate, talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jess was so inspiring because she demonstrated how something that can look so simple, like a Wikipedia article, could drive change and make a big impact in the world.

Amna Abdalla Mohammed Khalid discussed the aims and objectives of her organization, the Next Einstein Forum, and the positive impact that it is having in Africa by creating a unified scientific identity that fosters innovation and discovery.

For the last session, students and early careers representatives from international scientific societies, like myself, described the work each of them is doing as a volunteer with their organization to promote photonics and IDL. Roberta Caruso talked about the Young Mind project of the European Physics Society. Ezabo Baron and Kithinji Muriungi from the IEEE Photonics Society presented on the outreach programs they are doing in Africa. Duarte Graça and Artemis Tsimperi from the International Association of Physics Students described the great work performed by this society, work done by physics students for students. Xiang “Dino” Dai talked about the work of his OSA student chapter and encouraged everybody to try to inspire kids to learn about optics, photonics, and light.

Student and Societies Session. Roberta Caruso (EPS), Artemis Tsimperi (IAPS), Kithinji Muriungi (IEEE PS),
Ezabo Baron (IEEE PS), Xiang Dino Dai (OSA), Duarte Graça (IAPS), and Perla Viera (SPIE)

The last presentation was mine, and I presented some of the optics projects and programs that I had participated in—thanks to the support of the SPIE—including Optics for Everyone and its adaptation to Spanish, and the Mexican curricula for the Dumpster Optics workshop. Finally, all the students presented our opinions about our careers and the importance of doing photonics outreach work, including global initiatives like IDL.

The entire day and celebration was an inspiring event where experts from all over the world explained their work and their projects. I’m very sure that all the people that were present learned something new. And importantly, they were inspired by the amazing work performed by all the presenters to advance light and its impact.

Students during the dinner before the IDL event. From left to right:
Guillermo Sanchez (SPIE), Perla Viera (SPIE), Xiang Dino Dai (OSA), Ezabo Baron (IEEE PS) and Kithinji Muriungi(IEEE PS).


About the author: Perla is an SPIE Early Career Professional Member working at the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (UANL) in Monterrey, Mexico. She obtained her PhD in January 2019 in the field of physical engineering, completing her thesis on optical design. Since 2011, she has been an active Member SPIE; she was the treasurer (2011), president (2012) and (2014 – 2015) IYL-representative of the SPIE UANL Student Chapter. Also, she has served as a Student Committee Member of the SPIE since 2015. She is the leader of the science outreach group “Física Pato2 FCFM” which has held several events impacting more than 75,000 people in five years.

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