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Kiwi behind UNESCO International Day of Light

Celebrating light amid a solar storm

Kiwi behind UNESCO International Day of Light
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Anna Verboeket

In a wonderful coincidence, just as a massive solar storm has been producing colourful aurora worldwide, it’s time to mark the International Day of Light. The world commemorates many advances with “international days”, but it’s a little known fact that a New Zealander was the driving force behind today’s International Day of Light, first proclaimed by UNESCO in 2018.

Professor John Dudley, of New Zealand’s photonics research centre Te Whai Ao — Dodd-Walls, led a team which secured the official United Nations mandate to celebrate the role light plays in science and fields as diverse as medicine, communications, and energy. He is a man ahead of his time.  

Today there’s a global race to develop phonic and quantum technologies, with advanced economies spending billions on research into the field. Commercially, the science publisher SPIE estimates the total monetary value of all light-enabled and related services (such as cloud computing, streaming and e-commerce) comprises some USD $16 trillion, while the value of all finished goods and services produced worldwide is estimated by the International Monetary Fund at around USD $106 trillion in 2024.  

Professor Dudley and his associates felt strongly that more should be understood about the power of light to address modern challenges such as sustainable development, energy, and community health and wellbeing.

“Events such as the International Day of Light give us the opportunity to think about how we can combine our different areas of expertise to make the world a better place,” he says.    

This year in New Zealand, Tūhura Otago Museum in Dunedin, StarDome in Auckland and Space Place in Wellington are celebrating in what’s thought to be a first - the simultaneous screening of a film about light, in partnership with Te Whai Ao — Dodd-Walls. Travelling with Light is being shown today at 1730 in Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin.

At Te Whai Ao —Dodd-Walls, globally respected researchers are working to improve Aotearoa’s economic and social well-being through the development of these technologies.

Director of the Centre, Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck says the Day of Light is a great time to pause and consider the value these new technologies bring to the world. “Our world-renowned researchers are collaborating with their peers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and elsewhere to advance this science and convert fundamental research into commercial possibilities. Today’s celebrations help bring this work to life, so that people can see real applications and imagine future ones,” Vanholsbeeck says.

For more on the simultaneous screening of Travelling with Light and celebration by the museum and planetariums, please contact them directly:
Otago Museum, Tūhura Marketing Manager: charlie.buchan@otagomuseum.nz
Auckland StarDome:  marketing@stardome.org.nz  
Wellington Space Place: fionac@experiencewellington.org.nz

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