UNESCO’s Inaugural Day of Light is Just What it Should Be

by Rogier van der Heide

What was launched as “the Year of Light” in 2015, is now an annual “Day of Light”: the UNESCO’s effort to draw attention for the incredible importance of light in the life of people: enabling us to learn and to work, bringing us together, pushing science forward and touching us, with ambiance and emotion.

16 May it is, the Day of Light, and the inauguration last week in Paris was an impressive lineup of people who have devoted their lives to light.

There was Kip Thorne, the Nobel prize laureate who uses laser light to proof that gravitational waves exist: Einstein was right and it’s been proven by light. Then we had Nuno Maya on stage: the video artist from Lisbon who works with light to bring people together and let them design… That way crossing religious barriers and other things that so sadly dominate the news everyday but just seem to be non-existent when people start playing with light.

It’s not surprising to me. Light, afterall, is uplifting, energizing, generally optimistic, and it  brings life to this planet as well as a smile on our face. We had a lot of fun when we – with all delegates – used tiny lights to “draw” stars and suns on the big projection screen in the UNESCO auditorium. Camera’s and projection equipment is all it takes: light brings people together.

That the major scientific institutes play such a big role in bringing and keeping Europe together was another big theme at the inaugural International Day of Light: Charlotte Warakaulle, Director at CERN said it with conviction: science knows no borders and knows no race. She did a solid talk on the bigger mission of CERN to bring people – and their brains – together. To me it made her the keynote speaker of the day.

There were many more: Maria Teresa Ruiz, who is a L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Prize Laureate and the first woman to graduate in astrophysics at Princeton, beamline scientist Gihan Kamel who works at SESAME, the experimental science lab in the Middle East modelled after CERN, and others from all over the world, moderated by UNESCO’s own Chief of Innovation Martiale Gaetan Zebaze Kana, who really did not have to be so nervous as he did a great job.

And finally Katerina Mina, the soprano who opened the day and closed it, with music composed by Linda Lamon. She was inspired by the late Stephen Hawking and titled the song “Look to the Universe”. We could not follow the lyrics but hey did that really matter at the end of the day? It was beautiful.

It all made the first Day of Light very UNESCO-ish: uniting people, the importance of art, science and education, the diversity of humanity, ample exposure for the big UN-funded projects and of course equal opportunities and peace for all of us: everything that makes the UN agenda was neatly worked into the program. The coffee could have been served in real cups instead of plastic and the food could have been just a tad bit more appealing, but it could not spoil a wonderful day. Thank you UNESCO for kicking off, and I hope that many countries follow suit on all 16 Mays to come!

Key image: Installation “Light is Here” by Finnish artist Kari Kola, intstalled by Valoparta Ltd.; (c) UNESCO/Nora Houguenade


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