Light for a Better World – A Celebration of U.S. Innovation at the National Academy of Sciences

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.

Musicians are bathed in LED light from the Radiance Orb, which responds to their playing before the start of the Light for a Better World celebration in Washington D.C. On September 12, 2015. Credit: Jason Socrates Bardi.

Musicians are bathed in LED light from the Radiance Orb, which responds to their playing before the start of the Light for a Better World celebration in Washington D.C. On September 12, 2015. Credit: Jason Socrates Bardi.

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Solar Light for Studying

After many Science workshops in Africa and South America, which we have given as Senior Science Advisors for students and teachers, we realized that teaching of science should not end at the school gate, but be put into practice in the lives of the students.

Students study at their school for example the application of electric current in simple circuits to produce light or to drive an electric motor. At home, however, many of the students have no access to electricity to generate light in the dark for learning. In order to see something, many families use kerosene lanterns that produce poisonous gases and pose a major fire hazard. As the houses are close to each other and constructed of wood and flammable materials, the outbreak of a fire has disastrous consequences. The hospitals in such settlements report of severe burns especially in infants.

Therefore we have equipped some schools in Namibia, Guatemala, Kenya, Chile and Peru with a 10 Watt Solar Light System, consisting of a solar charging station and mobile LED lanterns. After school lessons – about basic knowledge of electricity – the students learn how to use solar cells, rechargeable batteries and LEDs to build their own light for reading.

Students from Villarrica, Chile. Credit: Dieter Arnold.

Students from Villarrica, Chile. Credit: Dieter Arnold.

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Ancient Lights

For centuries, human beings have not only been simple spectators of the movement of celestial objects over the sky. All over the world, different cultures – regardless of the moment of history – have tried to understand and use the sky for their benefit.

For central American cultures such as the ancient Maya Civilization, the Sun was very important. They realized that each year, in the intertropical region they lived, there was a useful correlation between astronomical events and the weather: the Zenith Passage of the Sun.

Zenith

Shadow disappearance during Zenith Sun Passage in Stela D, Copán – Honduras.

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