2015: A Year Celebrating Light and Light-Based Technologies

February 11, 2015

The impact of light in various technologies has been evident in the past several years. Recognizing its significance in shaping the future, the UN General Assembly designated the year 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies. We introduce you to a few interesting technologies in which light plays a crucial role.

Let There Be Light

In a previous blog post, we recognized the winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. Their development of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) offered greater efficiency in lighting, with applications ranging from homes and offices to computers and cell phones. The award itself, as well as the various applications of the blue LEDs, highlighted the importance of light in generating future technologies.

This same thought was shared by the United Nations as, on December 20, 2013, they declared 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL 2015). In addition to emphasizing light science and its many uses, this global initiative also promotes awareness of optical technologies’ central role in building a more sustainable world, providing solutions to challenges in energy, education, agriculture, and health. The opening ceremonies for the IYL 2015 were hosted in Paris this past January. Future events are scheduled throughout the year — across the world — to teach individuals about the power of light and celebrate its importance.

The logo for the International Year of Light 2015.
Logo representing the International Year of Light 2015. (“Logo de l’Année Internationale de la Lumière” by Christophe Finot. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

With 2015 underway, let’s take a look at the role of light in some growing technologies.

New Technologies Making Use of Light

Using light instead of electricity, the UK start-up company Optalysys has paved the way for enabling desktop-sized computers to operate with exascale levels of postprocessing power. This new method in information processing takes advantage of the properties of light through the application of low-power lasers and high-resolution liquid crystal micro-displays.

As the low-power lasers are beamed through layers of liquid crystal grids, the light intensity is altered based on the user’s data input. From the resulting interference patterns, mathematical equations can be solved and other tasks can be performed. By splitting the beam through several grids, the system can complete calculations in parallel at a much more efficient speed – at light speed, to be exact. Their prototype, which is scheduled to be launched soon, could offer an alternative to conventional supercomputers, providing HPC technology with half the energy consumption and at a much more manageable size.

For our next example, let’s take things to the sky. It may be difficult to imagine a windowless airplane, but with new organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays, this could be the future of air travel. These thin, flexible, and extremely lightweight display screens would be embedded into fuselage lining panels or seat backs, acting as both a window and an entertainment source.

With live footage available from external cameras as well as internal tracking cameras, passengers from any seat can choose to see views from various points aboard the aircraft. To note the difference between day and night, the lighting panels would enable color changes that are attributed to sunrise and sunset, allowing passengers to better adjust to their new time zone. By saving weight, this windowless airplane design also results in a lower fuel consumption, which decreases the levels of CO2 emissions that are emitted into the atmosphere. Additionally, the overall cost of the aircraft is reduced and the space within the plane is optimized, offering wider seating.

The Year Ahead

We have provided just a few examples of how light is shaping the design and development of new technologies. As the study of its behavior continues and new research efforts are introduced, we will continue to learn more about the capabilities of light and build upon its fascinating characteristics. Here’s to an exciting year ahead!

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