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Opinions | International Day of Light | May 17, 2021

Science in the Spotlight for the International Day of Light 2021 by John DUDLEY

Now in its fourth year, the UNESCO International Day of Light is one of the most anticipated science events on the global calendar of United Nations observances. Since its inception in 2018, over 1200 activities and events of all kinds have taken place in more than 80 countries, and even aboard the International Space Station!

The overall objective of the International Day of Light is to raise awareness of how light impacts society, uniting scientists, engineers, educators, and industry practitioners from a wide range of different fields. The International Day of Light encompasses all areas where light affects our lives – basic science, lighting, art, culture, and sustainability. A focus of the International Day of Light has always been the development of new and energy-efficient lighting technologies, and working with UNESCO reminds us that many of the most urgent lighting needs are in developing countries.

Of course, even while we look forward to celebrations during 2021, we cannot forget the global circumstances of the COVID pandemic that continue to be challenging in many ways. Yet the events of the last 14 months have highlighted just how central light-based technology is to modern society, and how it has provided the solutions to the many problems we have faced. For example, the internet and video-conferencing have enabled continuity in industry and education even while so many have been confined to their homes, and the science of light has been key to developing responses to the pandemic in areas such as research, diagnostic medical tools, and UV sterilization.

Even more significantly, we have come to appreciate the importance of facts supported by scientific research, and we have been reminded how much we rely on dedicated professionals — in fields from healthcare to engineering — to find evidence-based solutions to society’s challenges. And yet we have also seen how a simple and seemingly-obvious message of trusting the advice of scientists can become politicized and lead to confusion with tragic consequences. As a result, a key action of the International Day of Light in 2021 is the launch of a dedicated campaign to promote societal awareness of the need to “Trust Science.” Supported by Nobel Laureates, science and industry leaders, and educators worldwide, the campaign aims to reach out to the general public and to invite them to make a simple yet very important declaration of confidence in the scientific process. The pledge takes less than a minute and can be easily completed online at www.trust-science.org

"The International Day of Light encompasses all areas where light affects our lives – basic science, lighting, art, culture, and sustainability.''
–Professor John DUDLEY, Chair of the International Day of Light Steering Committee

The International Day of Light is only the start of the Trust Science campaign, and this message will be a focal point of many other outreach and education activities throughout 2021. Our hope is that the International Day of Light community will help this important message to reach a truly global audience.
In this context, it is worth stressing here that the success of the International Day of Light has only been possible because of the tremendous grass-roots enthusiasm of all those who are passionate about light and its many benefits for society. This enthusiasm grows with every year, and we are confident that 2021 will see another fantastic celebration to light up the world. J.D.

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John DUDLEY is Distinguished Professor of Physics at the Université de Franche-Comté and the CNRS Research Institute FEMTO-ST in Besancon, France.\par\strut\par  His research spans a period of more than 30 years in which he has contributed to optical source development, ultrafast and nonlinear fibre optics, and the interdisciplinary physics of nonlinear waves.  He has won a number of national and international awards, including the Harold E. Edgerton Award for High-Speed Optics of SPIE and the R.W. Wood Prize of OSA.  He is a Fellow of IEEE, IOP, EOS, SPIE and OSA, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Aparangi. He initiated the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies in 2015, and currently chairs the International Day of Light Steering Committee. 

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