Message From The President Of The European Physical Society

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Prof. Dr. John Dudley
Université de Franche-Comté

Thematic coverage

The activities of an International Year of Light will be structured around four broad thematic subject areas and important cross-cutting actions addressing central elements of sustainability, education and history.

Science of Light

Studying the fundamental scientific properties of light has impacted widely on all fields of science, technology and engineering.  From early attempts to understand the motion of stars and planets to the appreciation of the importance of light in photosynthesis, efforts to understand the nature and the characteristics of light have revolutionized nearly every field of science.  Light from the Big Bang provides us with a vision of the origin of the Universe.  The spectrum of light from X-rays to infrared lasers provides technologies that underpin our lives, and the interaction of light with the human body provides valuable techniques for diagnosis, imaging and treatment in medicine.  Advanced research in areas such as nanophotonics, quantum optics and ultrafast science are inspiring new fundamental discoveries and opening new scientific frontiers.  This theme will highlight the fundamental scientific properties of light and why it is essential to continue research in this field for the future.

Light Technology

The science of light is applied in the technological field known as photonics, and this theme addresses the important ways that photonic devices impact on areas such as medicine, communications and energy.  Light plays a crucial role in modern life and in shrinking the modern world that is often unknown and unappreciated. Light pulses and advanced optical fibre cables form the backbone of the global internet, and satellite telephones and wireless technologies allow even the most remote areas of the world to have access to communications, information and even advanced medical care.  Light Technology is essential to improve society’s energy independence through devices that efficiently convert sunlight to other energy forms, and new forms of low cost green lighting.  In a similar way, understanding the Earth’s environment increasingly relies on optical and photonic techniques for sensing and measurement.

These examples are of course state-of-the-art feats of engineering.  But at the same time, optical technologies that are simple and that have existed for centuries are tremendously important for our daily lives! Corrective eyeglasses for improved vision are familiar to us all, and simple optical instruments such as microscopes form a cornerstone of modern medical diagnostics. This theme will describe light technology and its many applications, and will focus on how optics is placed to be a key driver of innovation in the 21st century.

Light in Nature

The wonder of light and colour is revealed spectacularly in effects such as sunsets, rainbows, halos, and shadows to cite just a few examples of the rich variety of optical phenomena which can be found in nature.  This theme will raise awareness of the beauty and accessibility of science through activities that will encourage and support observation of light and colour in the Natural world.  No matter where one lives and no matter what one’s age, it is easy and delightful to understand Nature through light: from ice crystals near the artic to mirages in the desert to shadows in the forest to shifting images on water, the wonder and beauty of natural optics is everywhere.   And of course, this theme provides a natural place to consider how observing light in nature often means turning off the lights from modern society.  Whilst modern lighting provides important and crucial opportunities and advantages in improving quality of life, raising awareness of the issue of light pollution will also be an important feature of this theme.

Overall, in these days where downloading images of nature from the internet has largely replaced direct observation, activities in this theme will encourage outdoor observation in all-weathers and at all-latitudes, aiming to inspire a new generation of scientists to open their eyes.

Light and Culture

Activities in this theme will highlight the myriad ways in which light has influenced and continues to influence human culture.  From the early artists and scientists of Antiquity to the development of perspective and the understanding of light and shadow during the Renaissance, to impressionism and modern artistic techniques, this theme will describe how the study of light and art is central to understanding and appreciating our cultural heritage.  Describing the continuous links between light and culture throughout history will provide valuable insights into the interactions between science and art and the humanities in general.

In a contemporary context, this theme will also describe ways in which light can be used to improve our appreciation of cultural heritage in ways such as applying optical techniques to image paintings, the use of modern technology in museums to experience culture in an interactive environment, and the use of natural light and low-pollution lighting to illuminate architecture, monuments and public spaces.

Light has influenced and continues to influence the visual and performing arts, literature and human thinking.  This theme will provide an important bridge between science and culture and will aid in breaking down the boundaries between these fields that are becoming increasingly separated in the modern world. Ensuring that science and technology are relevant to development and sustainability is essential, and modern optical technologies can play a vital role through low carbon emission solar lighting, and in areas such as agriculture, disease prevention, and water purification. Light is an inspiring subject in both art and science, and promoting education for young people in these fields is a natural lever towards promoting higher education and encouraging careers in multidisciplinary fields in general. Addressing gender imbalance will be an essential part of this action as well. A particular aspect of educational activities that can highlight the complex way in which science and society develops internationally is through the history of the science of light; this has involved virtually all the major figures of science over 2000 years and from all continents. Highlighting their often unknown human stories will be an inspiring educational and outreach activity for a new generation.

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