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News Release 15-006

Spotlight on light

International Year of Light celebrates impacts on scientific research

microchip with alternating layers of ultra-thin metal

First "Image of the Week" marks the start of International Year of Light and NSF-funded science

January 20, 2015

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The United Nations' International Year of Light was launched in the City of Light (Paris, France) on Monday, and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova was there to illuminate NSF's role in embracing the many facets of light that propel scientific discovery forward.

"Light has been and will continue to be a compelling field of basic research and education crossing many disciplinary boundaries," she said in her remarks. "In today's global economy, we believe it is important to nurture a scientific and engineering workforce capable of successfully performing in an international research environment."

Light is vital to human activities. In nature, we see its impacts in photosynthesis and bioluminescence. We use it to glean information about our universe from the sun and stars. Scientists and engineers have harnessed the power of light on many spectrums to create applications that have revolutionized society through medicine, communications, entertainment and culture. Light and light-based technologies have launched countless industries and processes that have transformed our world and will continue to do so.

NSF has a long history of supporting research in optics and photonics as well as projects that use them as research tools. That effort is expanding to move beyond present science and technology and lay the groundwork for major advances in scientific understanding to create high-impact, optical-based technologies for the next decade and beyond.

Some NSF-funded research in these areas includes:

  • A new photonic electronics platform paradigm;
  • Extreme UV and x-ray sources that represent new frontiers in research;
  • Science and engineering in the quantum realm;
  • Biophotonics, which sits at the crossroads of photonics and biology, offering potential innovation for health care and medicine; and
  • Manufacturing innovations.

"The innate desire for discovery lies at the heart of the National Science Foundation, where we constantly seek to unlock the secrets of science," Córdova said. "We are proud to be one of the world's leading funders of research into all aspects of light in all its manifestations, across the entire electromagnetic spectrum."

Because of NSF's involvement in optics, photonics, and all manner of scientific inquiry into naturally occurring and human-made light sources, the agency will highlight NSF-funded light research throughout the coming year to celebrate the International Year of Light, starting with an "image of the week" feature in its social media platforms and on its website.


Media Contacts
Ivy F. Kupec, NSF, (703) 292-8796, email:
Sarah Bates, NSF, (703) 292-7738, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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