From the beginning of time, we have been fascinated by light, its magic and beauty. It has inspired many thinkers, scientists, philosophers or artists. In 2015, the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies celebrated all of its applications, raising awareness of their potential to achieve a sustainable future. This includes promising alternative energy sources, lifesaving medical advances in diagnostics technology and treatments, light-speed internet and many other discoveries that have revolutionized society and shaped our understanding of the universe. The Year is now coming to a close with a 3-day conference hosted by the Mexican government in Merida, on 4-6 February 2016.
The programme of the conference, which can be followed live online, includes lectures and panel discussion by eminent specialists, including two recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics: Shuji Nakamura (2014) and John Mather (2006).
“Light is the driver of photosynthesis and is the main source of energy for most living creatures” reminded Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in his address to the conference. “By celebrating light, this International Year has celebrated life. The Year has shown how the science of light, photonics and related technologies can promote sustainable development in many fields, including climate change and energy, agriculture, health and education.”
Light technologies will be essential to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement on Climate reached at COP21. “Indeed, light-based technologies are key to understanding and combating climate change, by enabling us to measure the global carbon-dioxide distribution, or providing solar-based solutions for renewable energy” explained Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, in her message to the Conference. She stressed that practical, cost-effective light-based solutions are becoming increasingly central to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
John Dudley, Chairman of the Year’s Steering committee, provided an overview of the main outcomes of the Year. Over 5,000 activities were organized during the Year, including scientific conferences, art projects and exhibitions, active learning workshops, festivals and many more.
The scope of the conference is a reminder of the many ways in which light touches us, and of its centrality in our lives. Topics include health and life science, architecture and urban environments, new light sources for research, optics and phototonics, cultural heritage and science education, to name a few. Live streaming of all sessions is available on the website.
Cultural and educational activities are organized in Merida during the closing ceremony, such as a film festival, art installations and an outreach programme in high schools and universities.