Editorial – Hitting the nail on the head

By . Published on 24 February 2015 in:
February 2015, ,

The Opening Ceremony of the International year of Light took place in Paris on 19-20 January 2015. It was a wonderful event, full of exciting science, inspiring uses of technology for social progress, and beautiful artistic representations. Since then, I have been in a number of conversations where people have asked “what is the lasting impact”?

Actually, this question gets asked a lot in any context where the scientific community in general, and the European Physical Society [EPS] in particular becomes involved in outreach or policy initiatives. While it is a good question, and requires a reply, it can be misleading. When it gets asked, the questioner wants to know what this one event (this one lecture, this one demonstration, this one statement, etc.) has done to permanently address (change, influence, improve, reorganise, motivate, etc.) the problem (better science teaching, more funding for science, increased attractiveness of careers in science, better understanding of science by the general public, …)

Because of this, when we try to reply, we get the answer only partly right. We explain why this event was remarkable, what it has done for us.  We speak about the quality of speakers, the number of participants, the number of policy makers, the number of students, etc. What we are explaining is why this event is memorable, but do not answer the question what is its lasting impact.

We forget to explain that any attempt to change the status quo is an on-going process.  Changing attitudes, modifying perception, introducing new methods requires time and patience, ingenuity and creativity, and most of all, perseverance.

This reminds a little bit of driving a nail. There is a technique that can be learned (where to hold the nail, the arm movement, choice of spot to insert the nail, …). But basically we start with a series of small taps, none of which does a lot to accomplish the main task. But once the nail is firmly set, then we apply more and more forceful hammer strikes.

The International Year of Light 2015 [IYL 2015], as with most policy and outreach initiatives, required hundreds of small taps by a large diverse community to firmly set the idea. The first major initiative to drive home the key messages of IYL 2015 was a resounding success.  Its lasting impact will come from the thousands of contributions in science, technology, education, culture and policy that will firmly attach the science of light and light-based technologies to social, economic and cultural development. We really hit the nail on the head.

David Lee
EPS Secretary General

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