My International Day of Light Trip to Paris

Being asked to be a part of, and attend the International Day of Light on behalf of the IOP was a massive honour for me, and to top it all off it was being held at the UNESCO HQ in Paris. I couldn’t think of better way to end my exam period by spending it eating a crepe on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, while some of my classmates still had a 3-hour Solid-State Physics paper to complete.

The first International Year of light was held in 2015, and so building upon the success of that this global initiative provides an annual event for the continued appreciation of light and the role it plays in sciences, culture, education and sustainable development.

This year, IDL 2018 was opened by UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay, who was joined in the photonics celebrity-rich program by renowned scientists such as Nobel Prize Laureates Kip Thorne, 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics of California Institute of Technology (USA); Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics of Collège de France, and Khaled Toukan, Director of the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) based in Allan, Jordan. What I loved about the event was how diverse and global the speakers were, from New Zealand to Mexico, to Saudi Arabia to Russia. Researchers and leaders gathered to discuss how light-based technologies can be used to meet pressing challenges in diverse areas such as medicine, education, agriculture and energy.

Coming from a creative background, a personal highlight of the trip for me was working with the founder and creative director of Portuguese company OCUBO, Nuno Maya and Kari Kola, a Finish light designer and artist. OCUBO specialise in large heritage sites and immersive light art. I volunteered alongside 20 other physics students from around the world to help set up the event, and help Nuno and his team create a breath taking light show that explored the interior of the UNESCO auditorium, that redesigned its architecture using light to tell a ‘brief history of light’, and celebrated the late Professor Stephen Hawking. A truly incredible experience to be a part of.

While the list of notable academics was impressive, the performers and art exhibits gave myself and the audience something to explore and get hands on with throughout the day. On one of my breaks I spoke to the creator of ‘PYRAMIDION’, an interactive light sculpture in the shape of a pyramid where you could interact with it through its cardiac sensor, and once you stepped inside, it would flash in sync with your heartbeat. Among this there were other activities taking place such as a Virtual Reality exhibition, and a television screen that you could control with your eyes just by focusing in on a specific region.

The whole event opened my eyes to the wonders and importance that light can have on so any different areas of science and culture, and the keynote speakers and round-table discussion gave me an exciting glimpse into the future of where light based sciences are heading, something that we can all look forward to.

The aim of the event was to celebrate the role light plays in our daily lives, with the hope to establish an annual event to maintain the momentum of light-related projects designed to benefit communities worldwide, and something that I hope continues to grow with the success of this year’s event. I felt truly privileged to be in the company of such great scientists and researchers, and thank the IOP for giving me the opportunity to do so.

Mark Cunningham

Mark is a 3rd year Physics student at Queens University Belfast and IOP Campus Ambassador.

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