On the occasion of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 a special session entitled ‘Light and Innovation’ took place on 16 October 2015 at the wonderful Palazzo Edison in Milan, the headquarters of the Edison corporation. It was organized by Edison SpA and the Foundation Alessandro Volta, in collaboration with the European Physical Society and the Italian Physical Society. Edison SpA is Europe’s oldest energy company, and today is one of the industry leaders in Italy and Europe with business focusing on electric power and hydrocarbon exploration and production. The Alessandro Volta Foundation is located at Lake Como and has a school of Advanced Studies where scientific events are organized to promote excellence in training and research.
After an opening session with several official speeches, a plenary lecture was given by Serge Haroche, Nobel laureate, Collège de France Paris. He discussed the different aspects of light and the history of great discoveries in a talk entitled ‘Blue Sky Research and Innovation’.
Another highlight of the ceremony was the official award of the 2015 EPS Edison Volta Prize. This European Prize, established in 2009, was awarded to the three principal leaders of the European Space Agency’s [ESA] Planck Mission, Nazzareno Mandolesi of the University of Ferrara, Jean-Loup Puget of the Université Paris-Sud and CNRS and Jan Tauber of the Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration at ESA. The Planck mission was developed by ESA to measure with extreme accuracy the temperature fluctuations of the Cosmic Microwave Background and thus to study the relic radiation from the Big Bang. The achievements of the mission were summarized by Nazzareno Mandolesi in his allocution.
The ceremony moderated with bravura and charm by Barbara Gallavotti, scientific journalist, went on with three light related talks. The first one on ‘Light: Discoveries and Inventions’ by Alessandro Bettini of the University of Padua outlined the milestones in the scientific development of optical technologies. In the second one, Alessandro Farini of the National Institute of Optics [INO-CNR] in Florence presented with much humor the relation between Light and Art, in particular emphasising the relation between the psychology of vision and the perception of art works under various illuminations. Finally Raffaella Simili of the University of Bologna gave an interesting overview of the Italian Capitals of Lights, describing the role of electrification in bringing light in the Italian cities. One good example is the first illumination of the Scala Theater in Milano with electric bulbs in 1883. The broad audience will certainly long remember this luminous ceremony in an auditorium that is a real masterpiece of neoclassical architecture.