Passing on the Light

“Having light we pass it on to others” is the motto of my undergraduate alma mater, Wittenberg University. But it could easily be a theme for the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015). As the celebratory year closes, those of us who have light (who understand its unique position in and promise for our world) have a duty to continue passing on to others our love & appreciation of light.

H. Philip Stahl with Physics PhD students at SPIE Photonics West. Credit: SPIE.

H. Philip Stahl with Physics PhD students at SPIE Photonics West. Credit: SPIE.

Light is central to everything from photoemission to photosynthesis, from art to architecture, and from physics to philosophy.  Light underpins the world economy, indeed our entire quality of life, and enables a sustainable future.  Light based technologies have and will provide tremendous advances in Human Health and Medicine.  Light inspires us to appreciate the beauty of our natural world and human culture.  Light is both how we perceive the universe in which we exist and how we exist in the universe that we perceive.

Following the practice of thinking globally and acting locally, what I have found effective in ‘passing on the light to others’ is outreach to the young.  Help a teacher demonstrate concepts involving light.  Give public lectures to SPIE/OSA Student Chapters, or local professional groups.  Judge and award cash prizes to the best science fair projects involving light; and/or, mentor these young science fair researchers.  But maybe most effective is providing summer jobs and internships. Nothing is more personally satisfying that helping someone find their Bliss.

Over the past four years, as an SPIE Executive Officer, and before that as an SPIE Director and Vice President of the International Commission for Optics, I have had a unique opportunity to represent and advocate on behalf of light – visiting over three dozen SPIE/OSA Student Chapters on five continents.  While separated by geography, I find that these students universally share a common love and enthusiasm for light and a desire to use light for the betterment of humanity.

Finally, a truly special memory which stays with me is the privilege and responsibility I felt as one of the representatives of the Year of Light organizing committee at the United Nations, along with Dr. John Dudley, Dr. Ana Maria Cetto, Dr. Anthony M. Johnshon, and Dr. Yanne Chembo.  In my career I have visited many interesting places, but the United Nations was special.  A key lesson for me from testifying at the UN was how the various delegates responded to our proposal for an IYL 2015. A Mexican representative asked about the role of light in spirituality.  The Bahaman Ambassador asked how we would adjust our program for different cultures.  The Nigerian Ambassador asked how IYL 2015 could provide his people with clean water.  The Spinoza Society representative asked if there was a roll for blind people in an International Year of Light.  Each brings to light their own needs and experiences.

So, as this celebratory International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 comes to a close, it is the responsibility of those among us who have light to continue passing it on to others.


HPS Portrait 18 Apr 2011Philip Stahl is a Senior Optical Physicist at NASA MSFC currently leading an effort to mature technologies for a new large aperture telescope to replace the Hubble Space Telescope.  Previous assignments include Mirror Technology lead for the James Webb Space Telescope.  Dr. Stahl is a leading authority in optical metrology, optical engineering, and phase-measuring interferometry.  Many of the world’s largest telescopes have been fabricated with the aid of high-speed and infrared phase-measuring Interferometers developed by him, including the Keck, VLT and Gemini telescopes.  Dr. Stahl is a Fellow of SPIE, Fellow of OSA, member of AAS and IAU.  He was the 2014 SPIE President and an ICO Vice-President (2005-11).  He earned his PhD (1985) and MS (1983) in Optical Science at the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center.  He earned a BA in Physics and Mathematics from Wittenberg University in 1979.

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