International Day of Light Emphasizes the Inclusion of Women and Girls in STEM

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TRIESTE, Italy, May 7, 2019 — The International Day of Light, a global initiative that celebrates the central role of light in science, culture, art, education, medicine, communications, and energy, kicks off Thursday, May 16, with activities spanning 54 countries.

This year, organizers at UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, are promoting the use of light sciences as a means for stimulating young people and women — especially in developing countries — to study science and engineering, with a series of lectures, workshops, activities, and events across continents.

In the run-up to the International Day of Light, Brazil hosted “Girls in ICT (International Center for Theoretical Physics) and Day of Light Second Edition” April 25, which included workshops and lectures on careers in the area of optics. Pakistan presented “Optics for Girls,” a hands-on program designed to increase awareness about light and light-based phenomenon.

On Saturday, May 4, the United States hosted a “Tech-Savvy Photonics Workshop” in Santa Barbara, Calif., presented by the Photonics Society to encourage young women in middle school to consider STEM careers. Women graduate students and professionals led a variety of one-hour workshops so that young women could explore various STEM fields.

The topic of educating youth, especially girls, is presented in areas as wide as the principles of optics in China to more specific lectures such as India’s “Youth Development Program on Lasers” held March 19. In Indonesia, high school students studied “Optic Experiments for Youth in Inspiring Education on Optics and Photonics.”

Greece, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the U.S. are also hosting events geared toward youth.

In Trieste, Italy, the international day’s main conference will focus on “Illuminating Education.” The event’s keynote speaker will be ICTP Distinguished Lecturer Sir Michael Berry from the University of Bristol, who will present "Optica Fantastica: Images to Illuminate the Physics of Light," a picture-based talk ideally suited to engage the interest and further science outreach to the public of all ages.

Berry will deliver a plenary lecture “Light in Nature,” which will be followed by thematic sessions covering areas of education, entrepreneurship, career development for young researchers, and the use of light as a lever for sustainable development. Special International Day of Light activities will also be part of the UNESCO-sponsored Education and Training in Optics (ETOP) conference that will take place in Quebec City May 21-24.

Other presentations will feature a wide range of leading international speakers who will discuss diverse subjects such as light and development, international collaborations, issues relating to light and science education in general, career development, and more. Additional presentations will be given by representatives from the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO-ICTP.

One of the day’s highlights will focus on student sessions where a number of students from the international networks of EPS, IEEE, OSA, SPIE, IAPS, and other partners will discuss how they promote science outreach and how they see their careers in science developing in the future. Internationally renowned experts in the field of light will speak on a wide array of topics that range from inspiring women and girls to pursue a future in science to practical career advice.

Other confirmed guest speakers include Amna Abdalla Mohammed Khalid, vice chair of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) Executive Committee, who will deliver a presentation on the aims and objectives of the NEF community of scientists in creating a unified African scientific identity to enable the robust scientific transformation of Africa through fostering an environment for innovative scientific discovery.

Brian Liebel, of Illuminating Engineering Society, will discuss “Lighting and the Future,” and Cather Simpson, of the University of Auckland, will present a keynote talk on “Using Physics to Feed the Planet,” explaining how a greater understanding of light is changing the way humanity grows food.

In addition, Jess Wade, of Imperial College London, will talk about her work on challenging stereotypes, the Institute of Physics’ efforts to improve gender balance in physics classrooms. She will also describe her research on next-generation OLEDs.

Rachel Won, international editor of Nature Photonics, will discuss “A Career in Science Communications” about her experience as scientific journal editor and the general prospects for getting into science publishing.

In addition, other partners are preparing their own events for 2019, which can be registered for inclusion in the official International Day of Light 2019 calendar at Officials noted that events need not take place on May 16, 2019, to be included in the global calendar.

Under the leadership of UNESCO, the first International Day of Light was held May 16, 2018, and began with an inaugural celebration at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. More than 640 events took place in more than 87 countries.

Published: May 2019
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