Outreach Highlights

International Year of Light & International Day of Light

Science outreach (sometimes translated as `mediation' in French) has always been central to my career. Even as a PhD student I ran the University of Auckland Physical Society, and ever since I have welcomed the chance to communicate science to as many different sectors of the community as possible. I have carried out actions ranging from giving personal outreach lectures in schools to creating large international programmes involving scientific societies, UNESCO, scientists, citizens and political leaders.

From 2009-2016 I initiated and coordinated (as chair of the Steering Committee) the International Year of Light in 2015.  This initiative saw over 13000 outreach events take place worldwide, reaching 10’s of millions, and promoting themes of sustainable development, citizen science, and science in developing countries.  The final report of the International Year of Light makes for impressive reading and is available for free downloadhere. 

I was also  privileged to be asked to coordinate the followup action which led to the proclamation of an annual UNESCO International Day of Light observed annually on 16 May, the anniversary of the first observation of laser oscillation in 1960.  If you want to learn more, explore the International Day of Light website, and follow updates from the IDL Newsletter which I co-edit.  

A video at the opening of the International Year of Light in 2015 explains the responsibility that I feel scientists have to engage in promoting science to society.

Public Outreach Lectures

I have always been interested in developing effective means to communicate science to students and the general public. Over the years I have worked on demonstration-based teaching for liberal arts courses and the use of historical material in lectures, and this material has now developed into a live-science lecture spanning 2 hours with non-stop experiments on light and related areas of physics.  You can see an outline of what this involves here by following this unrolled thread originally posted on Twitter.  Some still images are below.  This lecture and variations of it have likely been delivered to over 2000 students and members of the public in the region.

Outreach in Schools

History of Optics

The University of Franche-Comté was founded in 1423, with its early academic structure organized around law, theology and medicine, and it took until 1845 before a Faculty of Science was established.

In the context of the university’s 600th anniversary in 2023, staff of the optics department of FEMTO-ST performed a number of actions to attempt to record and understand our history, including recording oral histories with retired members of staff, and searching for archival materials to build a more complete history.   In fact, when the optics department originally moved to its current location in 2014, a collection of early scientific instruments had been found neglected in storage, and this was saved from destruction. However the collection was in a poor state and uncatalogued, and nobody really seemed to know its history.

The anniversary celebrations provided the impetus to examine and catalogue this in detail, and subsequently uncovered that the majority of the instruments had been purchased at the founding of the Faculty of Science in 1844!  During 2023, we worked to clean these instruments to a state where they could be displayed (taking advice from historians to keep our efforts to a minimum) and on the International Day of Light 16 May 2023, we held a special conference where we traced the history of optics in the region, and inaugurated a Scientific Heritage Museum. A video where I explain the motivation of this work is below, and you can see also our dedicated webpage.