3 January 2014

Celebrate the International Year of Light in 2015

Richard Fienberg

Richard Fienberg, AAS Press Officer

Last month the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). In proclaiming an International Year focusing on the topic of light science and its applications, the United Nations has recognized the importance of raising global awareness of how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture, and health. Indeed, the resolution was adopted as part of a more general agenda item on science and technology for development. This International Year will bring together many different stakeholders including UNESCO, scientific societies and unions, educational and research institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations, and private sector partners to promote and celebrate the significance of light and its applications during 2015.

IYL 2015 will promote improved public and political understanding of the central role of light in the modern world while also celebrating a number of significant anniversaries that take place in 2015, including the works on optics by Ibn Al-Haytham in 1015, the notion of light as a wave proposed by Fresnel in 1815, the electromagnetic theory of light propagation proposed by Maxwell in 1865, Einstein’s theory of the photoelectric effect in 1905 and his embedding of light in cosmology through general relativity in 1915, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background by Penzias and Wilson in 1965, and Charles Kao’s achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers that same year.

John Dudley, president of the European Physical Society and chair of the IYL 2015 Steering Committee, explains: “An International Year of Light is a tremendous opportunity to ensure that policymakers are made aware of the problem-solving potential of light technology. Photonics provides cost-effective solutions to challenges in so many different areas: energy, sustainable development, climate change, health, communications, and agriculture. For example, innovative lighting solutions reduce energy consumption and environmental impact, while minimizing light pollution so that we can all appreciate the beauty of the universe in a dark sky. IYL 2015 is a unique opportunity to raise global awareness of advances in this field.”

The IYL 2015 resolution was submitted to the United Nations on 6 November 2013 by the nation of Mexico, with delegates from both Mexico and New Zealand speaking in support. As Ana María Cetto from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) says: “The IYL will create a forum for scientists, engineers, artists, poets, and all others inspired by light to interact both with each other and with the public so as to learn more about the nature of light, its many applications, and its role in history and culture.” The resolution was adopted with co-sponsorship from 35 countries, reflecting the truly international and inclusive nature of the theme of an International Year of Light.

The Founding Scientific Sponsors of IYL2015 are the European Physical Society (EPS); SPIE, the International Society for Optics And Photonics; the Optical Society (OSA); the IEEE Photonics Society (IPS); the American Physical Society (APS); and the lightsources.org international network. The AAS, which was heavily involved in the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, expects to play a role in IYL 2015 too — especially since we'll be hosting the 29th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in August 2015. National and regional committees and contact points currently being established will ensure that all nations of the world can participate. For more information, and to be placed on a mailing list for updates, email light@eps.org. Or you can sign up on the EPS IYL 2015 page, which includes links to additional information.

Note: This article is adapted from a European Physical Society press release.