Brilliant minds convened at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble during the entire week of 16-20 November, 2015, to lay the groundwork for an eventual African Light Source (AfLS). There are approximately fifty light sources worldwide, with some laboratories possessing more than one. As seen in the figure below, Africa is the only habitable continent in the world without a light source, and addressing this shortcoming is what served as the impetus for the AfLS meeting.
Those of us who are fortunate to work directly in the photonics or optical technology fields or are members of the wider technical community, already have an innate appreciation of the transformative nature of light-based technologies and the crucial role they place in our daily lives. Light is not something we take for granted; we recognize implicitly how optical technologies have revolutionized medicine, manufacturing communications, and energy. However, while developed countries have benefited tremendously from these advancements, there are many in developing countries that lack basic access to the very technologies that we consider both commonplace and fundamental for existence. For example, more than one-fifth of the world’s 7.3 billion population has no access to electricity, almost 600 million people living in Africa alone. Without electricity families have no clean source of light, having to rely instead on expensive (and dangerous) alternatives like homemade kerosene lamps; families can spend up to 40 percent of their income just on kerosene. With respect to access to communications, less than 20% of the global internet usage comes from Africa. This disparity in technology richness and its detrimental consequences was recently highlighted by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon who noted, “Widespread energy poverty still condemns billions to darkness, ill health and missed opportunities for education and prosperity”.
Photonics is the science and technology of generating, controlling, and detecting photons. It underpins technologies of daily life from smartphones to laptops to the Internet to medical instruments to lighting technology. Businesses in the field of photonics and light-based technologies work on solving key societal challenges, such as energy generation and energy efficiency, healthy ageing of the population, climate change, and security. Photonic technologies have major impact on the world economy with a current global market of €300 billion and projected market value of over €600 billion in 2020. But most people around the world has no idea about what Photonics is. Therefore global initiatives such as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015) are of vital importance to bring Photonics closer to society.
Three European projects – GoPhoton!, Photonics4All and LIGHT2015 – share these goals to make Photonics a household word. Their aim is to raise awareness among the public, young people and entrepreneurs of what Photonics is, and how and why Photonics is an essential technology of the future. They want to inspire a new generation of young scientists using Photonics with hands-on activities to promote the excitement of Photonic science and to strengthen networking and collaborations across societies in Europe to promote the EU as the World Hub of Photonics.
The Photonics Explorer is an intra-curricular educational kit designed to engage, excite and educate students about the fascination of working hands-on with light and optics in the classroom. The kit was developed within an EU project. Since November 2011, EYESTvzw is responsible for the assembly and mass distribution, and for supporting teachers in our endeavour to convey the fascination of science and engineering to pupils. The aim is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers by distributing Photonics Explorer kits.
Hundreds of people attended an evening event this past Saturday titled, “Light for a Better World: A Celebration of U.S. Innovation” at the National Academy of Sciences. This was one of two flagship events anchoring International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL 2015) celebration in the United States, and it featured several delightful lectures by a distinguished panel of speakers followed by a nice reception.
The evening was sponsored by the U.S. IYL 2015 organizing committee, which includes the National Science Foundation, National Academy of Sciences, The Optical Society, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, IEEE Photonics Society and SPIE.
An earlier, daytime event called “Wonders of Light – Family Science Fun” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian where more than 500 people, largely children and their parents, were treated to more than a dozen booths offering hands-on activities. I will describe more about that daytime event in a separate blog. First, let me describe the evening event and how well the speakers there captured the dual themes reflected in the title: light innovation and working toward a better world.