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

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 two-day conference is part of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015).

Opening of the Conference "the Islamic Golden Age of Science for actual knowledge-based society: The Ibn Al-Haytham example"
Opening of the Conference "the Islamic Golden Age of Science for actual knowledge-based society: The Ibn Al-Haytham example"

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 two 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 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.”

More information about the conference here.

Read the original press release on UNESCO's website.

About IYL 2015

The International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL 2015) is a global initiative adopted by the United Nations (A/RES/68/221) to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.  With UNESCO as lead agency, IYL 2015 programs will promote improved public and political understanding of the central role of light in the modern world while also celebrating noteworthy anniversaries in 2015—from the first studies of optics 1,000 years ago to discoveries in optical communications that power the Internet today.  The IYL Global Secretariat is located at the Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

The Founding Partners of IYL 2015 are the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the American Physical Society (APS), the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG), the European Physical Society (EPS), the Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), the IEEE Photonics Society (IPS), the Institute of Physics (IOP), Light: Science and Applications, the International Network, 1001 Inventions, The Optical Society (OSA) and the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). 

Patron Sponsors include Bosca, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), Royal Philips Lighting, Thorlabs and UL.


Maciej J. Nalecz
Director, Division for Science Policy and Capacity Building
UNESCO Natural Sciences Sector

Azzedine Boudrioua
Steering Committee Chair
Coordinator of the WG Ibn Al Haytham

John Dudley
Steering Committee Chair
International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015

Joe Niemela
Global Coordinator (IYL Secretariat)
International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015