The International Year of Light Closing Ceremony took place in Mexico from 4-7 February 2016, bringing together diplomats and decision-makers, Nobel laureates, and science and industry leaders to both review the many successes of the International Year, as well as to look at concrete steps to ensure a lasting impact and legacy.
I had the great honour in the Opening Session to provide an overview of the year’s activities, and in preparing for this in January, it was remarkable to learn just how much had been achieved. Significantly, although a small number of events had been planned in advance by the International Steering Committee, the vast majority of activities had been organized spontaneously on a local level all over the world. We have so far been able to identify 5000 distinct events in 148 countries, but I suspect the true number may be double or even triple this number as we are learning daily of events in schools and universities that we were completely unaware of. Moreover, a search through media databases in multiple languages reveals over 15000 media mentions of the Year of Light, allowing us to identify even more actions that have taken place. I would like thank all of those involved in the International Year of Light for their support – without your hard work and effort, we never would have reached such a wide audience and the Year would never have been such a success.
The diversity of events that have taken place has been truly remarkable: education and outreach; specialist workshops in science and industry; forums on the historical development of science; conferences on sustainable development; public light festivals and displays; works of art, music and literature. Events have been targeted at all levels – from preschool children learning science for the first time, to politicians, diplomats and even royalty convening high-level meetings on the importance of technology for the future! Discussions are now underway to ensure that the resources and partnerships established over the last two years will continue, and I am hopeful that we will see more effort placed on promoting topics such as education and entrepreneurship in developing countries that need it most.
The first idea of the International Year of Light dates to mid-2009 and by the time we have assembled the final report, it will be a full 7 years of work that will have gone into this initiative. Although this is a very long time and at times the delays were extremely frustrating, it is important to realise that when dealing with multiple partners on a project involving political considerations, such a timetable is not that unusual. But this is a very important lesson for us all – with patience and persistence, and with the support of recognised societies such as EPS, scientists can have a major influence.
The international science community has shown during 2015 what it can do when it works together to promote science, and the task for us all now is to keep at it in the future! But I am extremely encouraged by the commitment already being shown by many International Year of Light partners to continue their work and activities going into 2016 and beyond, and I think that we can look forward to a long-term legacy in more active and global outreach and education worldwide.
Chair of the IYL 2015 steering committee