16 May 2018 was the inaugural International Day of Light (IDL) – an annual, global initiative that provides a focal point for the continued appreciation of light. IDL aims to raise awareness of the critical role light-based technologies play in our lives, elevating science, technology, art, and culture to help achieve the goals of UNESCO – education, equality, and peace.
The International Day of Light is a global initiative that provides a platform for the continued appreciation of light and the role it plays in science, culture and art, education and sustainable development, and in fields as diverse as medicine, communications and energy. The broad theme of light will allow many different sectors of society worldwide to participate in activities that demonstrates how science, technology, art and culture can help achieve the goals of UNESCO – education, equality and peace.
Following a highly successful International Year of Light, which highlighted the importance of light-based sciences and technologies and saw more than 13,168 activities implemented in 147 countries, the Executive Board of UNESCO, at its 200th session, has established the International Day of Light on 16 May of every year (200 EX/Decision 27). The 39th General Conference has approved this decision in document 39 C/40.
The International Day of Light will be an annual celebration providing a platform for continued appreciation of the central role that light science and technologies play in the lives of citizens from all over the world. It will provide also an enduring follow-up of the achievements of the International Year of Light by raising the profile of science and technology globally and highlighting its applications for stimulating education, improving quality of life worldwide, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
An International Day of Light will contribute to build new bridges between scientific disciplines, education and the art, responding to the critical need for interdisciplinary science, and improved dialogue between citizens, scientists, decision makers, industry leaders and non-governmental organisations.
An International Day of Light will encourage worldwide community-driven actions in science outreach and education. An International Day of Light will offer UNESCO an opportunity to fulfill its mission of promoting international cooperation in the basic sciences and STEM Education, and will contribute to achieving the objective to render science, technology and innovation accessible to all with a focus on Africa.
The first idea for an International Year of Light dates back to 2009 when John Dudley, IYL 2015 Steering Committee Chair, proposed the idea whilst representing the Quantum Electronics and Optics Division (QEOD) of the European Physical Society (EPS) at a meeting of the International Council of Quantum Electronics (ICQE) in Baltimore, USA. An item that was discussed at this meeting was how to follow up activities that were planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the laser (LaserFest) in 2010 with something even more ambitious. The photonics community felt that there was a real opportunity to reach out beyond the scientific sector to raise much broader awareness of the problem-solving potential of light-based science in so many areas of life, and to make a global effort to influence education and policy in both developed and developing countries. The proposal was endorsed by ICQE and thus began the adventure towards IYL 2015. International Years are part of the United Nations (UN) declared observances that promote awareness of issues relevant to its aims and international programmes. The first step to successfully achieve the proclamation of the International Year was to work through UNESCO to prepare and submit a resolution to the UN General Assembly. But before this, EPS had to construct the proposal in detail and build a consortium amongst the major optics and physics societies. During 2010 and 2011, the main motivations and goals for IYL 2015 were drafted, and it was decided that 2015 would be the target year based on several key scientific anniversaries. With the support of the EPS President Luisa Cifarelli, an important milestone occurred in September 2011 when the Italian Physical Society and EPS organized in Varenna, Italy, the Passion for Light launch meeting for IYL 2015, where representatives of UNESCO and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (UNESCO-ICTP) were present, both to learn more about our plans and to show their support. This was the essential step that brought the guidance and experience of UNESCO’s International Basic Science Programme to the proposal. With the help of the Institute of Physics (especially Sir Peter Knight who was the president at the time), EPS led a delegation to the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) General Assembly in London, United Kingdom, during November 2011 to obtain endorsement, providing an important green light recognizing the international nature of the proposal. At this point there were many partners involved: in addition to EPS and its own European member societies, the IYL 2015 team included the African Physical Society, the American Physical Society, the Association of Asia Pacific Physical Societies, the Chinese Optical and Physical Societies, the European Optical Society, the International Commission for Optics (ICO), the IEEE Photonics Society, the Optical Society (OSA), the international society for optics and photonics (SPIE), as well as many other partners and societies from Africa, Australia, Canada, the Middle East, New Zealand, South America, and elsewhere. From March 2012 things moved quickly. With help from the Director of UNESCO’s International Basic Science Programme Dr. Maciej Nalecz, a consortium of supporting UNESCO member states was assembled. Much support was needed from a number of international scientific partners at this stage, and it is essential here to acknowledge Francis Allotey (Ghana) and Ana María Cetto (Mexico) for their leading roles. Other assistance was provided by Zsolt Fulop (Hungary), John Harvey and Geoff Austin (New Zealand), Zohra Ben Lakhdar and Mourad Zghal (Tunisia), Joe Niemela (UNESCO-ICTP), Lluis Torner (Spain) and Sergei Bagaev and Victor Zadkov (Russia). A resolution supporting IYL 2015 was prepared and was adopted by the UNESCO Executive Board at its 190th session which took place at the UNESCO HQ in Paris, France, 3–18 October 2012. The resolution was placed before the Executive Board by Ghana, Mexico, the Russian Federation (Board Members), and New Zealand (UNESCO Member State). UNESCO delegates from Ghana and Mexico introduced the proposal to the Executive Board. The resolution was adopted by the Executive Board joined by co-signatories from a further 27 Board Members: Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Indonesia, Italy, Malawi, Nigeria, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Other Member States of UNESCO who declared support for the initiative were Hungary, Serbia, and South Africa. UNESCO’s official support opened the gate to approach the UN General Assembly to officially endorse the International Year.
In early 2013 a meeting amongst the international stakeholders proposed ICTP as the Global Coordination Secretariat. Later in the year, with the help of UNESCO, the IYL 2015 Steering Committee was invited by Mexico to defend the proposal in New York, United States of America, at an information meeting held at UN Headquarters in May 2013. Ana Maria Cetto and John Dudley led a delegation that also included representatives of the African Physical Society (Yanne Chembo), ICTP and OSA (Anthony Johnson) and SPIE (H. Philip Stahl).
After the May 2013 meeting, Mexico led the political process to draft a resolution for the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly which would begin in September 2013. The second half of 2013 was extremely busy, as the IYL 2015 Steering Committee really did need the declaration to be made before the end of 2013 in order to have a full 12 months to prepare. The UNESCO Executive Board resolution was endorsed by the UNESCO General Conference at its 37th session on 19 November 2013. In parallel, a resolution was submitted to the United Nations Second Committee on 6 November 2013 by the nation of Mexico, with delegates from both Mexico and New Zealand speaking in support. The resolution was adopted with co-sponsorship from 35 countries: Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and United States of America. Finally, the resolution A/RES/68/221 proclaiming the IYL 2015 was adopted on 20 December 2013 during a plenary meeting of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly.