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Universities Prepare for the International Year of Light

By Laura T

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

Next year will officially be known as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015), as declared by the United Nations in December of last year. Since the declaration, over 80 countries around the world have shown their support for the initiative, with more than 100 global partners confirmed, including educational establishments, scientific unions and societies, technology platforms, businesses, research companies and non-profit organizations.

Backed by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the International Year of Light is a global, cross-educational project aiming to raise awareness of the role placed by light and light technology throughout modern society, and potential future developments and applications.

The project will allow experts to share knowledge on how light technology can contribute to sustainability in the 21st century, as well as helping to address global problems surrounding energy, health, agriculture and education. The initiative will also highlight the role already played by light technology in so many parts of everyday life, from connecting to the internet and growing crops to creating revolutionary medicines and developing solar panels for those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to electricity.

President of the European Physical Society and chair of the UNESCO International Year of Light 2015 Steering Committee, John Dudley, explains; “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.”

Celebrating key anniversaries in light technology

The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies will follow on from UNESCO’s International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2014, and will see the celebration of a number of significant anniversaries, including Fresnel’s notion of light as a wave (1815), Maxwell’s proposal of an electromagnetic theory of light propagation (1865), Einstein’s theory of the photoelectric effect and his embedding of light in cosmology through general relativity (1905, 1915), and Penzias and Wilson’s discovery of the cosmic microwave background (1965).

Promoting education in STEM subjects

One of the International Year of Light’s main goals is to spread wide understanding of the possibilities of light technology and science in the modern world, particularly aiming to attract the attention of young specialists such as university students within STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other related areas.

Russia’s ITMO University is among institutions which have expressed support for this aim of motivating young people to pursue studies in STEM subjects. “We are currently witnessing decreasing interest towards technical education and it is an unfortunate situation,” says Professor Sergey Stafeyev, dean of natural sciences at ITMO University. “We want teens to see for themselves that science in general is of course a complicated subject, but on the other hand it is very interesting, beautiful and opens fantastic perspectives.”

Connecting scientists, engineers, artists and poets

ITMO University’s plans for the year include hosting the 10th International Symposium on Display Holography and the International Conference of Young Scientists and Specialists entitled ‘Optics’. The school is also working alongside Russia’s Museum of Light, Science and Art to create a public exhibition focused on the science of light.

Ana María Cetto, IYL 2015 Steering Committee member and research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), has spoken of the potential of the Year to bring together scientists and artists: “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.”

Other schools getting involved across the world include New Zealand’s University of Auckland, which hopes to display artwork in natural light; the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK; the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona and the Qatar campus of Texas A&M University.

This article was originally published in July 2014 . It was last updated in March 2016

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Written by

Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.