Shedding light on global societal challenges

The World of Photonics Congress opened in Munich, Germany on 22 June with a plenary highlighting the potential of light technologies to address current chal-lenges sustainably, in support of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (2015). The Congress is held concurrently with the leading trade fair on laser and photonics, thus bringing together the scientific and business communities in a leading international event presenting an overview of the entire field, from fundamental research to industrial applications and potentially life-changing new technologies.

Photonics is the science of light. It underpins technologies we now take for granted, from smartphones and the internet to instruments that revolutionized medicine and manufacturing processes. The 21st century is likely to be the century of photonics, as the 20th century was of electronics. At a time when managing resources wisely is critical, new and improved applications will allow us to do more with less: laser-cutting is making zero-loss production possible, while more efficient fiber optics will meet the increasing demand for fast communication while reducing energy consumption. Soon, organic photovoltaics will enable us to harvest the energy of light from almost any urban surface, and provide power to populations living off the grid.

The basic sciences, especially the sciences of light, may provide many answers to the challenges we face today” explained Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, in her welcome address. “The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies is a timely initiative allowing us to tackle these issues of utmost importance together. It is for these reasons that events such as [this Congress] are essential to both scientific and societal development, since they shine a spotlight on the power of the basic sciences to drive innovation, and – consequently sustainable development.”

The theme guiding the programme was “Light Solutions for the Society Challenges of our World”; the panel was moderated by John Dudley, Chairman of the International Year of Light Steering Committee. Participants included country representatives, leading scientists, CEOs and stakeholders of the optics and phototonics industries.

The congress concluded with a guided tour of the fair. Among the innovations presented were bio-photonic devices that will make diagnostics faster and safer, by analyzing physiological liquids remotely using fluorescence, or identifying the optical footprint of germs, and eco-friendly ultra-violet lasers.

About the Year    
The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL2015) was the initiative of a consortium of scientific bodies together with UNESCO’s International Basic Sciences Programme. The Consortium brings together many different stakeholders including scientific societies and unions, educational institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations and partners form the private sector. The main objective of the Year, which is led by UNESCO, is to raise global awareness of how light-based technologies can provide solutions to the global challenges of sustainable development.

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