Finland: It Takes Darkness to Make Light Visible

Finland is one of the luckiest countries in the world when it comes to light. And I’m not just talking about our Midnight Sun, when the Sun will not go behind the horizon for a long time in the northern parts of the country, like Lapland, and when it’s possible to read through the night without any artificial lighting even in the southern parts of our country.

Finland Lake

Finland: The land of a thousand lakes. Or actually 187 888 lakes. Photo credit: Pasi Vahimaa

I’m also talking about the long dark winter period when the night in the north lasts for weeks. That’s when the stars shine and make the snow glitter. Darkness and silence. That is an experience you cannot have everywhere. We really can find places where light pollution is something totally unknown.

The darkness also gives a unique possibility to make light visible. That is why we understand the importance of light from a Nordic point-of-view, which is completely different from any other nations’. We understand light in a way that is totally impossible to understand in most places in the world. We really understand what it could be like if you don’t have light. And that is also why we like to celebrate the International Year of Light.

Finland is a small country. Only about 5 million people. This means that it makes sense to have extensive collaboration across the country – also in research into light. We know all photonics people in our country, including researchers in universities and in photonics companies. In our Finnish Photonics Society, Photonics Finland (, we have only a few hundred members. This enables close collaboration across the country. And we understand that we need it. Even the way we have gathered the National Committee for IYL2015 reflects this – there are no borders that we cannot cross to find someone who is somehow connected to light.

In 2015, the main photonics event in Finland will be the Nordic Optics and Photonics Days in Joensuu. The event will host researchers from universities and companies from Finland and the other Nordic countries, as well as photonics students. In addition to the scientific programme, we also try to include something that makes light to be visible to a more general audience. We consider this very important. Fortunately, IYL2015 once again reminds us about the importance of this.

But we will not stop at universities. Year after year, we have done well in “PISA” – the evaluation of the school systems of various countries. We are proud of our success and we want to continuously develop our schools.

The International Year of Light gives a beautiful opportunity for this kind of development, because we now have a good reason to do things across traditional subject boundaries. To use light to connect physics, chemistry, and biology. And not to forget the arts. The Finnish Association for Teachers of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Informatics, MAOL (, has a plan to organise a contest for all school children to show their ideas about the importance of light. Not just in physics, but by combining subjects, as it is nowadays becoming a guideline in our school system.

I am personally looking forward to seeing the results. I mean, I am old and have my old-fashioned views of light. Maybe kids can wake me up and make me see new colours.

Furthermore, the theme for the 2015 edition of SciFest, an annual science festival in Joensuu (, will be ”Power of Light”. This festival brings together thousands of school kids to play in different workshops where science and mathematics are visible. This theme can be really something that almost all workshops can easily take into an account when they plan their activities.

To us who are working in science, this event gives a possibility to tell children why science is worth studying. In Finland, we have a challenge to attract enough new students to science. Many students would rather study medical sciences or teacher education, since those fields allow them to do something that benefits mankind. The International Year of Light now gives us tools to convince students that they can do the same in science. I believe that this helps especially girls to see science as something more interesting than they are used to seeing it in our country.

Also LUMA Center Finland (, the umbrella under which centres of mathematics and science in various universities collaborate, has taken IYL2015 on their agenda. This means that in Finland, the International Year of Light will be implemented in education from the first class in the elementary school to PhD education. And not as individual actions, but in collaboration between all players.

The long, dark time we have here in Finland also gives us excellent possibilities to make light art. Especially in the past few years, we have seized this unique opportunity that it takes dark before you can see light. Nowadays, we have several light art events around Finland, like Lux Helsinki (, Aurora Carealis ( and Tampere Illuminations ( Also these events will be in a more visible role in 2015.

Finland tower

Näsinneula tower (167 m) illuminated in Tampere. Photo credit: Kari Kola (

Since we are in Finland, we cannot avoid the Nordic Lights. Even though they are most common in northern Finland, occasionally one can see them also in southern Finland. We wish that the Sun will also celebrate IYL2015 with us, and give us nice showers of particles to glow here. So, if you visit here, don’t forget to look up every now and then. Unfortunately, our National Committee cannot at the moment give an exact schedule for these events.


The Author:

VahimaaPasi Vahimaa is the chairman of the National IYL2015 Committee in Finland. He is also the Scientific Director of the Institute of Photonics at the University of Eastern Finland ( He has done research in photonics, especially in the theoretical work on diffractive optics and optical coherence. Nowadays, his research activities also include biophotonics.


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