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Celebrating Our Light Alumni
 

Since planning began for the International Year of Light in 2009, thousands of volunteers have helped organize events and conduct outreach around the world. Leading up to the International Day of Light in 2021, we are profiling some of these wonderful and committed volunteers so that their activities, careers, and inspiring stories can be appreciated by the wider International Day of Light Community.  enhance the awareness of researchers.

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Yuhong Bai (China)

Dr. Prof. Yuhong Bai is the general chief editor of journal Light: Science & Applications, a world-renowned optics journal. She is also the PI of a US-China project with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and chief editor of journal Optics and Precision Engineering. She has received China’s most prominent awards in publishing  (ChinaGovernment Prize in Publishing, Leading Talent in News & Publishing), and has authored a book and 50 journal papers. 

I have been involved in promoting optics outreach since 2015, and the International Year of Light.  Serving on the International Day of Light Steering Committee representing the Light: Science & Applications journal, I have actively worked to raise the visibility of light science to broad communities, focusing particularly on how basic research in photonic science can impact on important societal issues and promote sustainable development.  I have organized Light Conferences and the Lighting the Blue online forum to highlight the International Year of Light and International Day of Light, and worked especially to raise visibility of these initiatives in China. 

Working with the International Year and Day of Light partnership has highlighted to me the importance of supporting early career scientists and those from less developed countries.  As a result, I initiated a new Rising Stars of Light campaign to support young scientists, and the journal has waived publication fees for researchers from less developed countries.  And during the pandemic, I have hosted a series of online talk which have attracted an audience of over a million, promoting researcher interactions even when they are unable to meet face-to face. 

Along with all the members of Light: Science & Applications, we look forward every year to the International Day of Light as we work with the global photonics community to promote the importance of our field to the public and to the world.  It is always a challenge, and we always learn something from working with such a diverse partnership.

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Danielle Harper (Scotland, the United States)

Dr Danielle Harper graduated from St Andrews University with a master’s degree in physics in 2015, and went on to complete a PhD degree at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria. Since March 2020, she has been working as a postdoc in Boston at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine. Her specialty is biophotonics, and she is currently working on advancing Optical Coherence Tomography imaging, from basic research to clinical applications.  She is actively pursuing an academic career in biophotonics, with a long-term goal to be able to mentor students and postdocs through their own research.

I first became aware of the International Year of Light towards the end of my undergraduate studies at the University of St Andrews (Scotland), when I was on the executive committee of the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS). The mission of IAPS is to promote collaborations amongst physics students around the globe, and I was delighted to take on the role of International Year of Light coordinator for 2015. During the International Year, we organized a number of new initiatives such as the IAPS School Day to take physics experiments to schools, and I had the opportunity to represent IAPS at the opening ceremony at UNESCO in Paris, and to work with other volunteer students to help.  It was a wonderful experience and made me appreciate the vast differences between the lenses through which people see light.

It was also fantastic to see how the the Year of Light has been followed by an annual International Day of Light. One thing I've come to realise about activities associated with international celebrations is that regardless of the scale of the event, their success relies upon local people coming together to organize and participate. Since 2019, I have organized local-level events targeted at friends and family, which I find equally as rewarding as conducting those on the international level. I love the fact that the International Day of Light provides a platform for anyone to host an event, exactly the way they want to host it.

I have been very active in outreach since my early undergraduate days, and I plan to make outreach a part of my career. As one becomes more specialized, initiatives like the International Day of Light remind us once a year that we are part of a much broader international community.

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Saurabh Narang (India, Germany)

Saurabh Naurang ‘s work has featured in publications including The Guardian, NatGeo, DW, and PetaPixel, and has been recognized with the IPF Portrait Prize 2018, the Excellence Prize of the 2019 Asia-Pacific Youth Storytelling Contest, and the Sony Alpha Stories Award. For the International Day of Light 2021, Saurabh is expanding the Virtual Photo Summit, and looking for new partners and sponsors to make it a unique photo festival, and to fund awards to support photographers from marginalized communities. He is also looking for stories from the Science World that will shape our future in the post-COVID world. You may reach out to him at saurabh.narang12@gmail.com or via www.saurabhnarang.com

I am an Indian visual storyteller currently based in Germany, with interest in documenting human stories of communities, cultures, and unexplored places. I was born in Delhi (India) and initially worked as a financial analyst at Barclays, before taking a sabbatical and embarking on an independent career as a photographer.  During my sabbatical year, I travelled around India with my social project #create4cause, and I came to see how visual storytelling offers life-altering experiences both for the artist and for those who view the images created.  In my work, I try to patiently listen to people tell their stories which I then represent through images. I hope that my photographs allow others to understand and accept differences in cultures and peoples, and I always try to combine my work with fundraising for the communities I visit. 

I first learned about the International Day of Light in 2017 through the Indian national node (Dr. Zahid Husain Khan), and I have been enthusiastically conducting photography-related events since. In 2019, I spoke at the UNESCO-ICTP Illuminating Education conference in Trieste (Italy), and I also led a project Spiti Photo Tour For A Cause (in collaboration with Spiti Ecosphere) to mentor photographers and celebrate the International Day of Light at the highest village in the World in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. During 2020, travel restrictions trapped me in a rural village in Sikkim, India, but despite the many challenges, I organised a Virtual Photo Summit which brought together more than 25 of the world’s leading storytellers (from National Geographic, Bollywood etc.) to celebrate the International Day of Light virtually. For 2021, I am planning to further develop the Virtual Photo Summit to support photographers from marginalized communities. 

Mirwat Shamshad (Pakistan)

Mirwat Shamshad teaches physics in Pakistan, working hard on her own professional development to guide her teaching. She participates regularly in international programmes, and has attended for example: the 2019 International Teachers’ Week 2019 at CERN (representing Pakistan); the 2019 UNESCO Active Learning in Optics and Photonics workshop in Indonesia; the 2020 ICTP Winter College on Optics in Trieste; the 2020 Schrodinger Class at the Institute of Quantum Computing, of the University of Waterloo, Canada.  Her long-term goal is to continue to further her education, not only for her own personal development, but also to act as an inspiration for girls in Pakistan to work in science.

I am an educator and I teach physics to high school girls in Islamabad, Pakistan.  My aim is to to provide an environment to nurture in my students strong roots for science and STEM education, and to give them an appreciation of scientific thought and the confidence to pursue careers in science and engineering. 

I was first introduced to the International Day of Light in February 2020 when I had the opportunity to visit the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (UNESCO-ICTP) in Italy, and I was excited by the many learning opportunities that I could see for my students.  I especially appreciated the spirit of the International Day of Light in providing a platform to work with the global community to popularize science and provide opportunities for developing nations.

During 2020, I had the pleasure of developing a range of light outreach activities with my students, including: a month long study with the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysics department using a remote telescope and analysing the light curve data of exoplanet HAT-P3; a hands-on Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP) workshop with SPIE; an Interplay of Art and Science poster activity for the 2020 #SeetheLight campaign; and participation in a two-day programme at the Canadian Light Source.
Seeing the real impact of these outreach activities on my students is inspiring for me as a teacher, and is a wonderful motivation to keep working on similar projects in the future.

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Jimmi Hervé Talla Mbé (Cameroon)

Jimmi H. Talla Mbé is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of Dschang, Cameroon. In 2012, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Université de Franche Comté CNRS FEMTO-ST Institute, Besançon, France. He is a fellow of the Cameroon Academy of Young Scientists (CAYS), Cameroon physical society (CPS), was awarded the African German Network of Excellence in Science (AGNES) for young scientists in 2012, and received a special grant from the Edmund Optics Educational Award (USA) in 2014. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, optoelectronics, photonics, optomechanics, and optical metrology. Presently, he is extending his scope to other optical technologies such as visible light communication, optical-based water sanitation, and reservoir computing. He is always looking for funding and partners, so please do not hesitate to reach out.

I have been involved in promoting optics since 2008 through involvement with the student chapters of international professional societies.  For example, I was the co-founder and past president of the OSA (Optical Society) Cameroon student chapter from 2008 to 2012. This was the first optical student chapter in Central Africa, and we were able to organize various activities and competitions in optics for universities and high schools. Our success also led to the creation of other student chapters affiliated with SPIE and IEEE, and presently I am the advisor of the IEEE Photonics Society Cameroon student chapter. To stimulate the creation of other student chapters in Central Africa, students from other countries are regularly invited during our activities.

In 2010, I was involved in the Laserfest celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the laser, as the local organizer in Cameroon where we ran activities under the theme Optical Solutions for Developing Countries, State-Of-Art. In 2015 when we celebrated The International Year of Light, I was again heavily involved with the local organization throughout the year, and I was also took the opportunity to develop and teach some new scientific courses.  I continue to regularly carry out outreach and have written a book on Production and Applications of Light, which has been distributed in optics conferences at Universities in Cameroon.  The Cameroon optics community is always enthusiastic and excited about the International Day of Light, and we will again be organizing events in 2020. 

Lydia Sanmartí-Vila (Barcelona)

Dr. Lydia Sanmartí-Vila (she/her), KTT Outreach Project Manager at ICFO. She is ECOP’s Executive Officer, where she coordinates the pursuit of new projects for ECOP to encourage collaboration among the centres. She manages ICFO’s international outreach projects and activities, such as the International year of Light, GoPhoton!, LIGHT2015, PHABLABS 4.0, QFLAG, the CSA of the Quantum Flagship and CARLA. She is the creator of the LIGHTtalks events, which were replicated in over 20 countries in Europe between 2015 and 2017. Lydia has a degree in chemistry from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a doctorate in neurobiology from the Otto von Guericke University in Germany, and has extensive international experience, including several years in communications and management consulting in several firms in New York City, US.

After a PhD in neurosciences and after working in strategic communications and management consulting in the life sciences, my career in photonics outreach started in 2014 when I joined The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona. I joined the outreach team led by Dr Silvia Carrasco to support the preparation for the International Year of Light, managing various international initiatives such as the FP7 EU projects GoPhoton! and Light2015, as well as the European Centres for Outreach in Photonics alliance ECOP. For me, the International Year of Light was the opportunity to start a new career from a high point. 2015 was to become a key year for the photonics community, not only from the outreach and dissemination perspective, but also as means of creating cohesion within the photonics community through the various  organizing committees that were established, committees that have now evolved into planning and implementing the International Day of Light.

The International Year of Light led to new initiatives in outreach and dissemination both at the ICFO and ECOP levels. It opened the door to multi-disciplinary approaches to reach out to different audiences. Among the over 100 different activities that we  carried out in celebration of the International Year of Light, we were invited by the City Hall of Barcelona to inaugurate the city’s light festival LlumBCN in 2015, enabling us to bring the impact and potential of light-based research and technologies to the local political and industry communities. We also co-organized, as part of the Committee of the official inauguration in Barcelona of the International Year of Light, an event in which more than 700 people from academia, industry and general public attended. We also created the Young Photonics Congress, a scientific congress directed to young minds, which this year celebrates its 6th edition.

The International Year of Light not only gave a push to my own career but triggered many outreach activities that have sustained over the years and that have led to several international initiatives such as the ECOP initiative PHABLABS 4.0 or the currently running CARLA project, coordinated by us. CARLA aims at creating innovative photonics career camps directed to undergraduate university students, master students, PhD students and early career postdocs.

Starting with the International Year of Light, I have been privileged to take part in many activities and dissemination actions that have reached millions of people across Europe, giving visibility to the impact and opportunities that light-based science and technologies contribute to the wellbeing of our society, and look forward to many more.

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Dan Curticapean (Germany)

Dan Curticapean is a Professor of Physics at the Professor at the University of Applied Sciences (Hochschule) Offenburg in Germany where he teaches courses from basic introductory physics to advanced optical design using the latest multimedia technologies. His research interests are wide and include topics such as imaging, sensing and augmented reality, and he has developed a particular focus on research-oriented education in photonics. The University of Applied Sciences Offenburg is a German university of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. It is one of the most important educational institutions in the southern Upper Rhine area with over 4,000 students. Photo credit: Offenburg University. 

I first learned about the International Year of Light around 2012 when I served on the Education Committee of the International Society for Optics and Photonics SPIE.  My own interests have always strongly been oriented to education, and I immediately saw the potential to use light as a theme to encourage more students into science and to promote interdisciplinary projects combining photonics with art.  I was delighted to be able to help out and develop supporting material for as the project worked through the complex process with the United Nations.  Together with my students, we created a Magic of Light project to assemble an online map that showed how the international photonics community was mobilizing. We accompanied this by designing postcards and posters that were distributed worldwide, and eventually found their way to United Nations Headquarters in New York!

One of the great pleasures of being a professor is learning so much from students and colleagues.  And it was with them that I had the privilege of participating in the inauguration of the International Year of Light in 2015, where we set up the first live social media projection to ever be shown inside UNESCO Headquarters.  During 2015, my students and I were actively involved in many other national and international events, including live streaming of the lunar eclipse on 28 September. 

The International Year of Light brought together different communities around a common objective of using light as a means of education.  And since the proclamation of the International Day of Light in 2018, I have continued to be part of the organizational team, helping out wherever I can.  Awareness of the power of science and technology is important for everyone, not just scientists, and we all have a role in communicating this message! 

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Noel Alberto Cruz Venegas (Mexico, Canada)

Noel Alberto Cruz Venegas is an experimental particle astrophysicist, working at the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, and currently an M.Sc. candidate at the University of Alberta in Canada. He obtained a BSc in Physics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and has worked as research assistant in an underground lab (-2 km, PICO-SNOLAB), a nuclear reactor (0 km, PROSPECT-ORNL) and high mountain experiments (+4 km, GTM & LAGO – INAOE).  His successful career has been recognized by the Mexican Government with the Oaxaca Youth Prize 2018 for academic achievement, one of the categories of the Mexican Honors System.

I was born inear Xitla (Monjas, Oaxaca, Mexico), and grew up in a farming family where there was no immediate aim to aspire to an academic career. But when looking at the beauty of the night skies above Monjas, I was inspired to try to understand, and this led me to a career in physics.

In the early years of my BSc studies in Physics in 2013, I started Luces del Campo, Lights in the Field, a scientific outreach project in the Southern Mountains of Mexico, a rural area where only fireflies and the Moon were the most intense light sources. This experience cemented my desire to learn the art of communicating the scientific ideas that continually modify and shape our perception of reality, and to use light as a metaphor to overcome the darkness of social and technological poverty.  Since its inception, more than 5000 students have taken part. 

When I heard of the International Day of Light in 2018, I was immediately excited to have the opportunity to become involved as a Science Communicator, and organized and participated in an event at the Cuauhtémoc Elementary School, which was named in honor of a celebrated Aztec emperor. This school was in my hometown, and returning of course created a rainbow of feelings. But although my original teachers were no longer there, I was delighted to see the same spirit of curiosity and discovery amongst the children. And with the help of just a laser, some transparent jelly, and coloured lights, I was delighted to be able to simultaneously bring education and happiness to a new generation, and perhaps open their eyes to a science career in the future.

I have already had the privilege of collaborating on several large experiments on sub-atomic physics in North America. I am especially attracted by the ability of experiments to reveal a detailed understanding of nature on all levels, and the way in which they can lead to unexpected new discoveries. But always accompanying my own study and research, I maintain a passion for education and community.  And as an underrepresented Latino minority, my aim is to enhance the popularity of STEM careers amongst those who perhaps would never have considered it. A message that I have learned during my own career so far, and one I always try to communicate, is that Science is familia (a family)! In this context, I would like to dedicate this short feature to my friend Gerardo R. Tristan who passed away - In Memoriam: Ikniutzin.

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Bethany Downer (Canada)

Bethany Downer works in science communications and public outreach, primarily for the space industry. She is the Chief Communications Officer of the Hubble Space Telescope for the European Space Agency and the Director of Communications for STAR HARBOR Space Academy, the world’s first publicly accessible spaceflight training facility and cutting-edge research and development campus for emerging space technologies. Bethany has also been coordinating the communications efforts for the International Day of Light since 2018. She has twice been named one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, is a recipient of Canada’s Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal, and is the youngest recipient of Memorial University’s Horizon Alumni Award. Bethany also intends to complete her first suborbital private spaceflight within the next decade. She can be reached on social media at @BethanyAstro on Twitter, @BethanyDowner on LinkedIn, and @BethanyDowner on Instagram.
 
I’ve found a passion for bringing science and technology to the general public. I believe that being inspired and excited by niche or specialized fields starts with strong awareness and comprehension – that's where I come in!
 
I became involved with the International Day of Light as part of the IDL Secretariat in the fall of 2018 through the Astronomy and Society Department of Leiden University, starting with preparations for the 2019 IDL celebrations. I was immediately impressed and inspired by the enthusiasm of the community, including the national node network and the various Day of Light sponsors and partners, who collectively bring awareness to the importance and role of light in our daily lives. I was drawn to the fact that this global community engaged the public worldwide around a common day – although celebrations are visibly taking place year-round to celebrate light in many ways – and the strong participation and impact that the Day of Light can have.
 
As my experience and research with light science and technologies up to this point had largely been through astronomy and space science, I was “en-light-ened” to learn more about different applications of light technology and the science of optics in various fields. I’m also glad that the Day of Light is “shedding light” on the harmful effects of light pollution and how this can negatively impact our access to viewing and researching the cosmos.
 
I am proud to be a member of the science communication community. Our goal is to establish a bridge of communication and understanding between the results and achievements of the scientists and innovators with the general public so that these developments can be shared and celebrated by broader audiences. The International Day of Light is a fantastic means of connecting these two groups and it also helps remind us of just how reliant we are on light-based technologies and the need to implement sustainable technologies. I feel very fortunate to be part of such an impactful worldwide initiative. Global celebrations such as this help bring us together and to bring awareness to important achievements and issues. I’m delighted to be part of the IDL Secretariat and I’m looking forward to the upcoming #LightDay2021 celebrations! I encourage everyone to sign the #TrustScience pledge.

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Zahid Husain Khan (India)

Zahid Husain Khan is currently associated with Vigyan Prasar – an autonomous organization of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, as a member of the Vigyan Bhasha Urdu Core Committee – engaged in science communication. He is also a member of the Governing Board of Zaheer Science Foundation, working on science policy and innovation. Dr Khan had been a Full Professor of Physics in Jamia Millia Islamia - a Central University in New Delhi. He obtained his Masters’ and Doctoral degrees from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India. He has wide interest in optics, molecular spectroscopy, laser physics, Materials science, information communication technology, and science communication. Dr Khan had been a DAAD Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, and Free University Berlin, and also a Visiting Scientist in the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany. He had been an elected Vice-President (2016 – 2020) of the Ibn al Haytham LHiSA International Society, Paris. 

My journey with “Light” began in childhood. Born in the village of Akrahra in Uttar Pradesh, I had the wonderful experience of living close to nature. The lush fields of rice, wheat and sugarcane, and the yellow mustard around my village were mesmerizing. The mango orchard, with the shadow of the tree-stems and leaves, and the sunlight that filtered through to the ground yielded spectacular visual effects. During the monsoon season, the clear air after the rains revealed the spectacular shining layers of the Himalayas, further revealing to me the visual beauty that was all around if only one would look. In those days there was no electricity and the only means of lighting was through lanterns. During summer, we slept out in the open, which offered us an opportunity to see the dark sky lit with thousands of stars and other celestial objects. Perhaps, my interest in Science was triggered from such observations.
 
Yet another reason for my fascination with Science started during grade 5 in my village school. The curriculum comprised of a book called “First Book of Science” but the teacher had the only copy, and so we were required to take our own notes. I carved my own pens from a local plant and I copied the entire book with colourful illustration, after which I hard-bound it using local materials. The book began with the theme, “What is Science?” which gave a beautiful description of Nature, from the scarlet sky at dawn to the twilight at dusk, among other elements of light and colour.
 
After High School, I decided to study science more completely, and completed my Masters at the Aligarh Muslim University in India. My research topics was spectroscopy and its applications, and this ultimately led to a PhD. During my extensive tenure in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi as a faculty member, in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, we introduced courses in optics and spectroscopy, laser physics and laser spectroscopy.
 
My first experience in Science communication was in the early 1990s, when a producer from the Mass Communication Research Centre of our university approached me to prepare a script for an audio-visual programme that was a part of a national classroom project. At that point, I selected the topic ‘Photoelectric Effect’ and leveraged its principles to develop a comprehensive three-episode programme with live demonstrations. I also developed presentations on the “Mysteries and Wonders of Light,” that I delivered in many universities in India and overseas.
 
In October 2014, the Secretariat of International Year of Light 2015 welcomed me as one of the National Focal Points for India, and I was delighted to attend the Opening Ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters. In my role as the National Focal Point for India, I had the valuable opportunity to collaborate with many educational institutions, NGOs and government agencies to organize events throughout 2015. I also participated in the Ibn al-Haytham Working Group, and attended the ‘Islamic Golden Age of Science for the Knowledge-Based Society’ Conference in September 2015 at UNESCO Headquarters.  In October 2015, on the invitation of the German Physical Society, I participated in a focus group discussion on sharing best practices pertaining to outreach events and initiatives in member countries, including Germany, UK, New Zealand and India, which was a very useful experience looking forward.
 
With the proclamation of 16th May as the International Day of Light (IDL), I continue to encourage educational institutions as well as individuals to organise events showcasing the impact of light in sustainable development, especially in the fields of education, healthcare, energy, and social service.

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Monika Raharti (Indonesia) 

Monika Raharti is director of the Center for Young Scientists Indonesia. After completing her bachelor’s in Physics in the Institut Teknologi Bandung, she worked in the Physics Department, Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung City, Indonesia. She continued her studies in the Institut Teknologi Bandung and completed her master’s in Physics in 1997 majoring in non-linear optics. She has been at Surya University in Jakarta, Indonesia since 2012. In 2021 she completed a PhD in Technical and Vocational Education from Sultan Idris University Malaysia.  Her concerns on Physics Education brought her to work with science teachers and she is actively promoting research in science to students and teachers in secondary schools, as well as developing the system of certification of research teachers and research schools in Indonesia. Currently she serves as President of the Asia Pacific Conference of Young Scientists, and council member of the Indonesian Physical Society.

My involvement with optics outreach and education dates back to the very beginning of my career, as I have always felt passionate about teaching the next generation so that they have improved opportunities for their careers and lives, and sharing my personal enthusiasm for science.  I have had the opportunity to work in a wide range of contexts in Indonesia in several different universities, and I have also initiated a number of programme to mentor teachers at all levels, and to work with younger scientists and students.  

My first experience of working with UNESCO was through its programme of educational workshops, multi-day events where we promote different strategies of Active Learning in Optics in Photonics (ALOP). The ALOP workshops are extremely valuable as they are based on the philosophy of “teaching teachers,” providing resources, new ideas, and mentoring for educators so that they can both develop professionally themselves, and also pass on new skills to their students. ALOP workshops provide participants with an introductory update in the fields of optics and photonics, and strategies for teaching that are active and that have been demonstrated to be more effective than traditional methods.

Through my contacts at UNESCO and at ICTP (the International Centre for Theoretical Physics)  I learned about the International Year of Light in 2015, and I was delighted to act as the national node contact for Indonesia. We organized events throughout 2015, including Lectures, workshops, seminars, conference, observations, demonstrations, and competitions, and reached a broad audience of scientists, teachers, and students.  I have continued my involvement with the International Day of Light team since 2018, and we regularly organize similar events, and look forward every year to interacting with and reaching new groups of students and members of the public. An area of particular focus for us currently is improving gender equality for scientists and teachers in Indonesia, and we have been working both on gathering data to inform government ministry decisions and planning, as well as to develop working group and programmes to enhance the awareness of researchers.