UNESCO Endorses International Day of Light

First celebration will be in 2018.

01 January 2017
Karen Thomas

The executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has endorsed a proposal to establish an annual International Day of Light (IDL) as an extension of the highly successful International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015).

The endorsement for a Day of Light has been embraced by SPIE and other founding partners of IYL 2015.

“SPIE welcomes, and strongly supports, the establishment of an International Day of Light by the United Nations,” said 2016 SPIE President Robert Lieberman. “Optics and photonics — light science and technology — touch human lives every day and profoundly influence society through improved health, better communication, cleaner energy, more efficient manufacturing, greater agricultural production, and many other ways.”

An International Day of Light will be celebrated on 16 May every year beginning in 2018, marking the anniversary of the first successful firing of a laser on that day in 1960.

While there are many light-related discoveries and advances in science and technology worthy of celebration, the IYL 2015 Steering Committee chose to highlight laser-based technology in selecting 16 May as a date.

Lasers have transformed the world in many ways and are present in diverse areas such as healthcare, communications, and agriculture. Laser-related science is a truly international field of research that has been recognized with more than 20 Nobel Prizes.


In June 2015, while IYL 2015 was in full swing, the IYL Steering Committee began discussions on a permanent legacy for IYL 2015 in the form of an annual International Day of Light. Events and activities during IYL 2015 raised global awareness about how light-based technologies benefit modern society.

An IDL will provide an annual focal point for the continued appreciation of how light affects the lives of people around the world in areas such as science, culture, education, sustainable development, medicine, communications, and energy.

The final report of IYL 2015 was delivered to UNESCO in Paris during a special meeting in October 2016. At this event, SPIE member and IYL Steering Committee member Ana Maria Cetto of the National Autonomous University of Mexico outlined the proposal for the Day of Light.

Cetto noted that the IDL offers a valuable opportunity to cement linkages between decision-makers, the public and private sectors, and the scientific community, as they work together for sustainable development.

As with IYL 2015, activities associated with the IDL will include school activities; high-level policy events; undertakings linking industry and science; special events for women in optics and science; and light fairs and festivals.


The IDL proposal was introduced at the UNESCO executive board by sponsors Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, and the Russian Federation. The resolution was adopted with 15 additional cosponsors — Argentina, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Serbia, Nigeria, Paraguay, Qatar, Vietnam, and Uganda.

“The UN-declared IYL 2015 observance,” said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, “made many of us more aware of widespread inequities such as light poverty, the many with no access to even simple eyeglasses, and the very uneven access to the light-powered internet for education and commerce.”

The International Day of Light will provide a yearly reminder of the progress of photonics-enabled technologies, he said.

“It will help us inspire more talented young people to take up careers in the field, to fulfill the enormous potential of which the IYL gave us a glimpse,” Arthurs said. “And we can judge ourselves by how much progress we have made in bringing the gifts of light to all humankind.”

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