Duke of York closes International Year of Light in the UK at gala celebration

29 January 2016

A day of educational events and an evening celebration and laser show were held on 27 January to mark the end of the International Year of Light (IYOL) in the UK.

Prince Andrew

As part of the grand finale at the Royal Society in London, HRH the Duke of York, who hosted the launch of IYOL at St James’s Palace on 28 January last year, addressed guests at the evening reception. Despite being “a frustrated physicist at heart” who had always had an interest in science, he said, he had not realised how significant light was for so many industries in the UK. “The contribution that light and the application of light make to the UK economy is very, very significant,” he said.

IYOL had done something extraordinary in bringing together diverse groups of people who were using, studying, teaching about or manufacturing with light, he said, and he hoped that part of its lasting legacy would be to keep people talking across the boundaries of their different disciplines. One of its greatest impacts would be in encouraging young people to engage in science of all kinds, he thought.

“We have had a wonderful year’s celebration of light but it is what you go forth and do now that’s important. Thank you for what you have done to make this Year of Light a real celebration and a stepping stone to an interest in science for lots of people,” he concluded.

IYOL in the UK has been supported by a number of organisations and co-ordinated by the Institute of Physics (IOP). At the reception, the IOP’s president, Professor Roy Sambles, highlighted some of the numerous activities that had taken place throughout the UK as part of IYOL, and said that the major legacy of the international year was likely to be its raising awareness of solar lighting in the developing world.

Earlier in the day, more than 350 primary school children took part in activities and workshops run by the educational and cultural organisation 1001 Inventions, which explored the scientific contribution made by Muslim scholars and scientists since the seventh century. The work of Arab scholar Ibn al-Haytham, who was a pioneer in optics around 1,000 years ago, was a particular focus.

Physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili also spoke about Ibn al-Haytham, as well as Ibn Sahl and other medieval scientists, in a lecture for more than 250 senior school students. Many stayed to watch a laser display outside the Royal Society by ER Productions, an award-winning laser display company.

IYOL in the UK has involved a wide range of lectures, shows, cultural collaborations and citizen science projects throughout the year, as well as inspiring creative work and campaigns that will go on into the future.

One focus of IYOL worldwide has been the importance of solar lighting in developing countries, and although the International Year of Light as a whole will officially end with a closing ceremony in Mexico on 4–6 February, the ongoing effort to make effective solar lighting available in some of the poorest communities will continue.

The coordinator of IYOL in the UK, Toby Shannon, said: “It was a fantastic way to mark the close of the International Year of Light in the UK by bringing together such a diverse group people that have supported the year in so many different ways. We welcomed representatives from science, the arts, industry, technology, culture, policy and others and we hope that the close of the year is just the beginning of a long collaboration between these groups to use light for the betterment of humanity.”