From the Islamic Golden Age to the Age of Photonics: celebrating the contributions of light to society

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© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo

One thousand years ago, in Basra (modern-day Iraq), Ibn al-Haytham opened new horizons in scientific methodology and broke new ground by studying the behaviour and properties of light. This field of research has since led to the development of technologies that shape our modern societies. Today, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova opened an international conference that aims to explore the decisive contributions of Ibn Al-Haytham and Islamic culture to the emergence of the sciences and to opening new vistas for human creativity. Entitled “Islamic Golden Age of Science for actual knowledge-based society: The Ibn Al-Haytham example”, the 2-day conference is part of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015.

Putting the conference in perspective, Irina Bokova stated that “today, at this time of great change, when ignorance and violent extremism are rife, it is essential we do everything to teach the common history of humanity, to share the histories of women and men who did so much in the past to impact on the world as we know it today. Ibn Al-Haytham stands out in this pantheon” as a great scientist and humanist.

Conferences like today’s remind us that UNESCO plays an essential role in protecting what can be called a ‘heritage of ideas’” noted John Dudley, President of the International Year of Light Steering Committee. “Studying the history of science and the lives and works and ideas of its pioneers such as Ibn Al Haytham can yield many important lessons, and provide inspiration for the future.”

Over the next 2 days, researchers, academics, science historians and political decision makers from different parts of the world will discuss the scientific legacy of Arab scientists of the 8th to 15th centuries to the development of modern science. Guest speakers will provide examples of how scientific ideas, and the very culture of science itself, have been central to the development of human society.

The 20th century was the century of electronics. The 21st century will be the century of photonics” explained Irina Bokova. She highlighted the essential role of the study of light in the development of communications, health and energy technologies, adding: “From solar panels to LED lighting, advances in optics-based applications are helping to advance major development goals in societies across the world, to change the lives of millions of women and men, by providing energy and heat, especially to the most marginalized.”

The inaugural session also counted with the valuable participation of Mohamed Amr, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Egypt and Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Ziad Aldrees, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO, and Sheik Faisal bin Qasim Al-Thani, Founder and Chairman of the Al Faisal Without Borders Foundation.

The conference will serve to present the potential of innovative light-based solutions to meet current sustainable development goals, notably in the field of energy, and to identify present-day challenges facing research in light-based sciences and technologies.

The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) aims to raise global awareness of the key role light and optical technologies play in our daily life and their importance to modern science.

Alongside the conference, facsimiles of manuscripts written by Arab and Moslem scientists will be on display in an exhibition entitled “Ibn Al-Haytham's contributions to the Islamic Golden Age of Science.”

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