Illuminating New Zealand - Te Kōanga: Celebrating Light at the Vernal Equinox

Te Kōanga is the Māori word for “spring,” and New Zealand celebrates the return of the sun and rejuvenation its warm light brings as part of the Illuminating New Zealand International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015) programme. From 19-27 September, around the southern hemisphere’s vernal equinox, universities and museums across the country will join to bring the magic of light to school children and other museum-goers. The general lectures and hands-on activities in Te Kōanga are part of UNESCO’s IYL 2015, and of the Illuminating New Zealand NZ-wide celebration of light and light-based technologies.


Te Kōanga brings together academic researchers and their students from the Universities of Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, Victoria University – Wellington, and Auckland University of Technology with the Dodd-Walls Centre of Research Excellence and eight museums in our large cities and small towns. Together, we are harnessing our world-leading knowledge of the science of light with the outreach excellence of our best museum staff to showcase how light and light-based technologies touch all aspects of New Zealander’s lives.

Through its positive message and active, hands-on engagement, Te Kōanga will inspire school-age students to become enthused about science and technology.  Research shows that students’ experiences with science in primary and intermediate school significantly influence their ultimate choice to take a science or engineering life path. Te Kōanga, aims to open students’ eyes to the rapidly emerging opportunities of “photonics” — the science and technology of the creation, control, manipulation and sensing of light – as one of the most important and innovative potential careers in the 21st century. Te Kōanga’s activities will be delivered to school groups and families, and also will help inform and inspire parents, caregivers and teachers about the importance of photonics and its career prospects.

Te Kōanga will launch at a gala event at MOTAT in Auckland on 19 September 2015.  Over the following days, museums extending from the Kauri Museum in Matakohe, to the South Otago Museum in Balclutha, will host a range of activities.  These will include hands-on demonstrations of light-based experiments, expert speakers, light-themed science shows, UV face painting, immersive 3-D experiences, light-inspired songs and music, astronomy sessions, and much more.  The celebration will conclude with a finale event in Dunedin, at the other end of New Zealand, in the Otago Museum on the 27 September 2015.

One special feature of Te Kōanga are the “Light Matters” kits for children, teachers and caregivers to take home. Over 4,500 of these kits will be developed and distributed nationwide. “Light Matters” kits contain light-based experiments that can be done by kids, family and friends, or used in the classroom. They are designed so that all components are readily-available and inexpensive and kits can be “refilled” using guidance from Illuminating NZ’s online experiment bank. Kits contain brain teasers, puzzles and challenges for kids to solve. Each kit will also contain an LED-based beacon with a code, that, when activated via the website, will help ‘light-up’ a map of New Zealand. The website will also allow kids across NZ to report on the findings of their experiments, compare results, float new ideas, and engage in NZ-wide competitions and “crowd-sourced” science challenges. Through the “Light Matters” kits and the interactive website, the impact of Te Kōanga and Illuminating New Zealand will last well beyond 2015!

Illuminating NZ is supported with funding from New Zealand’s Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Unlocking Curious Minds initiative. Te Kōanga is led by the Photon Factory at the University of Auckland, the Dodd-Walls Centre for Research Excellence and the Otago Museum. 

This event is part of the many IYL 2015 activities planned in New Zealand during the year. Another interesting event in the country will be the 2015 TEN BY TEN series that looks at the importance of light in New Zealand culture, research and business. Running from September to December 2015, ten New Zealand speakers will address the many facets of light: from massive stars to tiny lasers; as a health risk and a health benefit; as a source of inspiration in New Zealand history and literature. The talks will take place in ten venues around New Zealand and will be streamed online, so wherever you are in New Zealand or around the world you can watch the lectures live, or catch up later online.

More information about IYL 2015 activities in New Zealand here.

Photon Factory

The Photon Factory is an advanced, multi-user pulsed laser facility in the Faculty of Science at The University of Auckland. Its mission is to enable laser-based research for all of NZ, academic, government and industry. The Photon Factory’s physics, chemistry and engineering students and staff study how molecules convert light to useful forms of energy and are discovering new ways to exploit short laser pulses for micromachining with scientists and industry all over New Zealand and internationally. Engender Technologies, a Photon Factory spin-off, is using microfluidics and photonics to improve the global dairy industry. More information about our research can be found at

The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies

The Dodd-Walls Centre is a Centre of Research Excellence based upon photonics, from the most fundamental to the applied. It has existed as a collaborative centre between the Universities of Otago and Auckland since 2006, and was recently awarded major funding as a centre from the New Zealand government. It is named after two of New Zealand's pioneering researchers in quantum physics, Professors Jack Dodd and Dan Walls, The Dodd-Walls Centre’s aim is to generate fundamental knowledge about how the physical universe is composed and behaves and to undertake cutting-edge research with the potential to underpin advanced technological development.

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.


Cather Simpson
Co-Chair New Zealand National Committee
International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015

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