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Possible Through Light: Nobel perspectives on the International Day of Light

Becky Bosco, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Optica

The International Day of Light (IDL) is a global initiative highlighting the central role that light and light-based technologies play across science, culture, education, and sustainable development, in areas as diverse as medicine, communications, and energy. The 16 May date honors the anniversary of the first successful demonstration of a laser by physicist and engineer Theodore Maiman in 1960. As we look ahead to the next impactful year of light-based technologies, we asked Nobel Laureates for their thoughts on the opportunities of light-based discoveries in 2023.

Laser precise cooling for our future
“The multiple industrial and agricultural revolutions have transformed the world. However, an unintended consequence of this progress is that we are changing the climate of our planet. In addition to the climate risks, we will need to provide enough clean energy, water, and food for a more prosperous world that may grow to 11 billion by 2100,” said former US Secretary of Energy, 1997 Nobel Laureate, Optica Honorary Member, Steven Chu, Stanford University, United States. “How we transition from where we are now to where we need to be within 50 years is arguably the most pressing set of issues that science, innovation, and public policy have to address.”

New tools made of light
“Climate change and climate impact are within our control as scientists and individuals. The GEMM Initiative is engaging universities, research centers, measurement standards agencies, companies, and other scientific societies around the world to form GEMM regional centers and provide a critical focal point for researchers, technology developers, and policy makers. These multidisciplinary centers of excellence are focused on developing and sharing new measurement technologies and improved climate models,” shared 2018 Nobel Laureate, 2013 Optica President, Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo, Canada. “This initiative will bridge the gap between policymakers, modelers, and technology for improved environmental and climate change impact planning. I am proud to support this initiative. When surrounded by other people passionate about the same research areas, breakthrough research is possible.”

Gravitational waves finally captured
“Gravitational waves from compact binary sources such as black holes and neutron stars test General Relativity and have the possibility to teach us about the early universe,” said 2017 Nobel Laureate, Rainer Weiss,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States. “The waves induce motions smaller than 10-13 wavelengths of light in the mirrors of an interferometer. The precision requires high power CW (0.3MW) optical beams in the interferometer. Advanced LIGO and Virgo also use squeezed light, a quantum optic technique, to help achieve this precision.”

Controlling light particles in a quantum world
“Lasers to cool ions to near absolute zero enables scientists to measure and study individual atoms without disturbing their sensitive quantum states,” explains 2012 Nobel Laureate, David Wineland, University of Oregon, United States. “If we can make a quantum computer big enough and accurate enough, we should be able to program in problems that we currently don’t know how to solve. The potential for quantum computers is hard to define, but some applications might include uncovering protein configurations, data encryption, logistics optimization and artificial intelligence.”

About the International Day of Light
The International Day of Light is an annual focal point for the appreciation of the role that light plays in the lives of the citizens of the world. Enabling everything from medical imaging, communication, and food safety to self-driving cars, exoplanet exploration, and virtual-reality technology – the optics and photonics industry is worth celebrating. With all the advances in photonics that continue to be made in many different areas, it is likely that laser-related science will continue to be recognized by Nobel Prizes in the future, and will continue to create revolutions in our lives.

Optica values SPIE and the IEEE-Photonics Society for their continued collaboration in support of the International Day of Light. We thank our members worldwide for supporting IDL alongside us with celebrations in their local communities.

Image for keeping the session alive