Since immemorial times, light has offered comfort and assurance, inspiration and guidance, and has shaped how human beings understand the world around them. The cultural myths of several nations, center on a period of darkness dispelled by the generation of light in an uncanny parallel to modernity’s Big Bang Theory.
In the creation myth of Hinduism, the Purusha Suktham, primordial darkness gives way to the universe as we know it. The Parama Purusha brings Sun, fire, wind, sky and water into being. In Greek Mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the Gods out of love for human beings, which allowed man to ward off danger and provide a means to sustain. In the myths of the Inuit First nations, the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis) represent the souls of loved ones passed on, playing a celestial game of football, while offering comfort and connection to those they left behind.
Universally, light provides a sense of connection between heaven and earth. Practically, the light of stars provided a means for navigators from the Hawaiians in their outrigger canoes. The stars allowed Portuguese sailors, who crisscrossed the globe in their Caravels, to venture bravely through the oceans of the world. In Neolithic cultures, such as those that lived on the Salisbury plains of England, the alignment of the sun and the moon with stone built Henges, marked the passage of time and allowed farmers to know when to sow and when to reap.
The availability of light at night has always been a mark of privilege, whether it was light from candles, dry and plentiful firewood, or electric powered lights. This divide exists even today with underprivileged populations unable to access the light, which in turn would light the way to education and the economic empowerment attendant with it. Here harnessing the power of the sun by day allows for the illumination of populations by night through the development of innovative energy storage schemes.
Whether it is the simple splendor of a rainbow against storm clouds or the marvels of manufacturing nanoparticles within a living cell using light, light touches our bodies and empowers our souls.
Sri Priya Sundararajan is a Photonic Integration engineer at Infinera Corporation. She has worked in the semiconductor industry at Advanced Micro Devices, Altera and at a photonics start up in Ottawa, One Chip Photonics. She has a breadth of knowledge which encompasses nanotechnology, photonics,
plasmonics, semiconductor physics, microfluidics and electrical engineering acquired during the course of her studies, undergraduate through postdoctoral. She received her doctorate in the field of nanophotonics from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Rice University. She received her B.S. and M.Eng. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and built, coaxed and aligned her first lasers there while delving deeply into
the study and enjoyment of light, in all its forms.