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22 January 2015

International Year of Light: light to Light

Danielle Harper of the International Association Of Physics Students

The more than 1000 attendees at the launch of the UN-sponsored International Year of Light, in Paris - known as the "City of Light" - enjoyed a wide range of educational, political and entertaining presentations from various significant figures from contemporary photonics and related disciplines.

Professor Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Chair professor of chemistry and physics at California Institute of Technology, gave the plenary lecture entitled Light and Life. “From the Big Bang to the current state of the world, roughly 14 billion years on, we recognize that light plays a key part not only in all our lives today, but it has done so throughout the entire period of the evolution of earth and all of its life,” he told the gathering.

“Sunlight provides us with food, atmosphere and energy through the key reaction of photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen, and so the essentials for us to live. Identifying this photonics-related reaction led to an earlier Nobel Prize for Melvin Calvin in 1961.”

He then stressed to the audience that all cultures and religions throughout history have tried to discover the origins and importance of light, invariably making it a key part of their cultures.

“Many of the ancient civilizations, whether Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian have from early days worked to gain understanding of our relationship with light. Early Egyptians Akhenaten and Nefertiti were some of the first worshippers of the sun, who recognized the importance of our fundamental power source.

Adjacent to the main conference hall in the UNESCO building was a substantial new display commemorating the 1000 years since Egyptian Ibn Al-Haytham wrote his Book of Optics, which included chapters on early research into color, visual perception, reflection and refraction.