UKZN PhD Student Attends UNESCO International Year of Light Official Opening Ceremony
A doctoral student based at UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology, Ms Yaseera Ismail, was a member of the official South African delegation at the celebration of the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies in France.
The official opening ceremony, held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, was celebrated by 1 500 scientists, industrialists and dignitaries from various parts of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
Among those attending were the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon; South African Minister of Science and Technology, Minister Naledi Pandor, and Nobel Laureates Mr Steven Chu, Mr Serge Heroche, Mr Zhores Alferoz, Mr Ahmed Zewail and Mr William Phillips.
The South African delegation comprised a diverse group of four scientists at different phases in their career.
‘It was a tremendous tribute to be chosen to represent South Africa at this prestigious official opening ceremony,’ said Ismail. ‘As a young scientist it was an enlightening and inspiring experience to be able to interact with pioneers within the scientific community. It was overwhelming to be part of the global initiative undertaken to promote light, the driving force of our daily lives.’
UNESCO has proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light based Technologies as a way to commemorate the milestone of various breakthroughs in science, namely, 1 000 years of the Islamic Golden Age dedicated to the father of scientific methods, Ibn Al-Haytham, 200 years since Fresnel’s theory of Diffraction, 150 years since Maxwell’s theory of Electromagnetism, 100 years since Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and 50 years of Cosmic Microwave Background and Optical Fibre Technology.
The International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies is a global initiative to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.
One of the key themes on the second day of the event was the notion that light-based technologies can provide solutions to challenges in the developing world in the form of ending light poverty. Seventy percent of the African continent is plummeted into darkness once the sun sets. An outcome of this realisation is a pledge to end light poverty by the year 2030 by providing off the grid electricity by the means of utilising solar energy.
An equivalent topic of importance that was addressed during this two day event was the realisation and mitigation of the imminent threat of climate change.
Apart from discussing prominent challenges faced globally, the year of light was also celebrated culturally as it marked the inauguration of the 1001 inventions of the world of Ibn Al-Haytham and showcased the release of Einstein’s Light a film production developed for the International Year of Light.
The opening ceremony was brought to an end by a discussion of global science policies with the emphasis of international collaborations. During this session Pandor, said: ‘If we want to start an international collaboration, we need to start to teach the rest of the world.’
South Africa has a prominent photonics community with a strong culture of scientific excellence working in various avenues of science branching into fundamental light and matter interactions as well as light based technologies. As light becomes a significant discipline of science and engineering in the 21st century, it is important to build a worldwide educational network through activities targeted towards science for young people and to focus on promoting education.
The International Year of Light is an ongoing celebration and 2015 will see many events of this nature unfold across the globe.