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3 Questions Interview

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2013
Light is critical to life day in and day out, but John Dudley leads a group that wants to celebrate light for the entire year of 2015. Dudley, from South Auckland, New Zealand, holds Bachelor of Science and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Auckland. In 2000, he was named a professor at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, France, and currently heads its Optoelectronics and Photonics research section of the CNRS research institute FEMTO-ST. He is an elected fellow of The Optical Society, the IEEE and the European Optical Society. He also is president of the European Physical Society and will serve until April 2015. Photonics Spectra recently asked him three questions about his work on the International Year of Light.

Photo courtesy of Ludovic Godard - UFC

Q: What are you working on?

A: I am chairing an international consortium that is working with political partners to seek the declaration by the United Nations of the year 2015 as an International Year of Light. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of light science and technology in solving global problems. Specific areas where light-based technology and photonics impact on UN priorities and programs include education, health, energy, sustainability and development, and international cooperation.

The International Year of Light involves a community of over 100 partners from over 85 different countries. The partner base includes scientific societies, research infrastructure networks, industry consortia, museums, educational institutions, national and international academies, and other associations. The proposal is supported by leading scientists and educators, including Nobel laureates.

The proposal is being led at the UN by the nation of Mexico, having already received endorsement in 2012 by the UNESCO executive board when presented by Mexico, Ghana, Russia, New Zealand and many other countries.

Many previous International Years have been proclaimed to bring global and political attention to particular problems that are facing the world. The International Year of Light is a little different in that it aims to bring attention to a wide range of solutions to global problems that can be implemented through the science and technology of light.

Although we scientists are aware of this, proclamation by the UN General Assembly will ensure that a much wider group of social, economic and political stakeholders become aware of the catalytic problem-solving potential of photonics.

Q: What are the implications of the work for the industry or for society?

A: What we are planning in 2015 is a full year of activities to promote the importance of light science and photonic technologies in education, development and international cooperation. Many scientists are very good at outreach within our own communities, but in a sense, we are “preaching to the choir.” An International Year of Light will bring us scientists in contact with new communities of decision makers and potential users of photonics in both the developed and – more importantly, in my view – the developing world. There are many untapped opportunities for cooperation between scientific and industry partners of the project and UN organizations, and we aim that 2015 will be just the beginning of a phase of identifying new and durable partnerships. It has already been a tremendous experience discussing these potential new linkages with political leaders: Together with partners from other societies, I had the great privilege to visit the UN headquarters in May this year to present the aims of the project to UNESCO in New York as well as to representatives from many international UN embassies.

Concerning society as a whole, the visibility provided by a UN proclamation will also ensure the promotion of light science and technology as an educational priority. Education and training in this field are especially important in developing countries so as to develop a pool of local talent able to support optical infrastructure in areas such as health care, medicine, communications, energy and so on.

Q: What is next for this work?

A: We are now preparing for the UNESCO General Conference in Paris and the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. Having said that, we have actually been preparing for some time, and we already have started concrete plans for activities throughout 2015. There is no shortage of ideas, and we look forward to a full year of planning during 2014 to ensure that 2015 is a real success.

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