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The 2021 Trust Science Campaign 

Society at large is experiencing a variety of challenges impacting its trust in science, yet recent years and months have openly demonstrated the importance of evidence-based solutions — in fields from healthcare to engineering.

The message of the 2021 year’s International Day of Light — Trust Science — encouraged both scientists and the public alike to sign and support a declaration affirming their trust in science and the importance of public confidence in the scientific process.  The Trust Science campaign attracted support  from over 4500 worldwide, with Founding Signatories including Nobel and Breakthrough Prize laureates, other UNESCO and major award winners, science advocates and communicators, and leading members of the scientific community. We would like to thank especially the IEEE Photonics Society, OSA, and SPIE for having led this initiative which has been extremely important on multiple levels.  The campaign resonated very strongly internationally and was included specifically in the Official IDL 2021 Message from UNESCO's Director General. You can download detailed infographics and reports on the International Day of Light 2021 and the Trust Science campaign at the IDL website reports page.  

You can also download or read online two important articles prepared especially for this campaign.

1.  Lighting the Way to Truth: Determining Scientific Facts from Fiction. By Jess Wade. 

2. Let’s Spark Students’ Interest in the Science That Makes a Difference. By Desiré Whitmore. 

The 2021 Trust Science Champions

For the Trust Science campaign, we were honoured to be supported by a number of Champions - people who are making contributions in light science and related technology. From clean energy to clean water and communications to healthcare to astronomy, these trust science champions are taking significant steps in improving our world. Read more about their profiles and contributions below. 

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Heidi Abrahamse

Molecular mechanisms of light-tissue interaction to heal, Director, Laser Research Centre, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Pop culture rarely shows us the healing potential of lasers. When Dr. Evil straps a laser to a shark, he’s not sending that shark in to perform brain surgery. In the real world, however, lasers have exciting medical applications, like in the treatment of wounded skin. Prof. Heidi Abrahamse, the Sarchi Chair in Laser Applications in Health at the University of Johannesburg, targets damaged cells using specially directed lasers. Light in the “therapeutic window” of 630 to 905 nanometers stimulates cells to produce compounds that accelerate healing and skin repair. So next time your meditation app asks you to envision a “healing light,” you can picture a nanometer laser.

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J Stewart Aitchison

Improving Testing for Disease, University of Toronto, Canada

Stewart Aitchison is a scientist who explores new ways of using light to make healthcare available and affordable in remote communities. For instance, he supported the creation of a chip that can use light to detect multiple antibodies, and even count your immune cells. His HIV monitoring work can help patients check their immune cell count in just 10 to 15 minutes. By putting an entire laboratory on a chip, patients from all parts of the world will have easy access to the testing they need..

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Vanderlei S. Bagnato

Oxygen and lasers against cancer, University of São Paulo, Brazil

Humans need oxygen to survive, but did you know that too much oxygen is toxic to cells? It’s too much of a good thing! Photodynamic therapy uses oxygen to fight skin cancer thanks to a drug called a “photosensitizer”. On their own photosensitizers are harmless, but once they are exposed to a precisely calibrated laser they release toxic oxygen directly to cancer cells. If this research spearheaded by light scientist Dr. Vanderlie Bagnato is successful, we’ll soon be able to use photodynamic therapy to safely treat a wide variety of skin cancers.

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Garrett Cole

Tiny mirrors, big waves, Thorlabs, USA

While ocean waves make ripples in water, gravitational waves make ripples in spacetime. Garrett Cole, the technology manager at Thorlabs Crystalline Solutions, works with a team that recently developed special micromechanical mirrors to aid in the measurement of these unique astronomical phenomena. Cole’s tiny mirrors, smaller than the diameter of a human hair, were used to directly observe the fluctuations of the quantum vacuum and in a related effort were used to “squeeze” laser light, giving the light specific properties that reduce quantum background noise, allowing for more precise measurement of subtle effects such as gravitational waves. Maybe next he can invent a mirror that can make us look good under fluorescent lights.

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Céline d’Orgeville

Zapping space trash, ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australia

Earth is surrounded by space junk. Whether it’s a whole expired spacecraft or fragments from a previous satellite collision, each piece of debris – down to the smallest loose screw – is incredibly dangerous. The average speed of orbiting space debris is about 10 kilometers per second, corresponding to 22,300 MPH. While space agencies try their best to steer their spaceships around such debris, their main tool of detection, radar, is imprecise. That’s where Céline d’Orgeville comes in. Céline leads Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics (LGS AO) research at the Australian National University. Céline’s work using laser light reflection to track space debris from ground-based stations will one day greatly improve our ability to track debris accurately.

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Julius Horsthuis

Math and science make art, Fractal Artist, USA

Fractals are never-ending patterns that repeat infinitely according to a simple rule. They’re found in nature – think lightning bolts, river beds, snowflakes – but they can also be modeled using computer programs. That’s Julius Horsthuis’s forte. Using free software, the visual artist creates infinite fractal worlds, approximating dense jungles, alien planets, and ancient temples using relatively simple, repeating mathematical equations. Recent research at the South African Structured Light Laboratory has lent Horsthuis’s fractal work some photonics flavor. Simple laser beams, too, naturally take the form of fractals. And fractals aren’t just beautiful; understanding their structures could one day improve 3D medical imaging.

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Anthony M. Johnson

Putting Light to Work, University of Maryland, USA

Anthony Johnson is an experimental physicist whose work on ultrafast photophysics allowed us to understand processes that occur in time frames of 1- quadrillionth of a second! Ultrafast lasers can be used for precise machining in materials as hard as steel and as soft as tooth enamel, by evaporating the material they come into contact with. They are now widely used to manufacture submicron devices, smaller than can be seen with the naked eye, which have led to advancements in many fields including telecommunications and bioengineering.

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Hannah Joyce

Developing tiny wires for solar energy and space, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Hannah Joyce is a nano-material engineer specializing in nanowires, tiny wires which are less than 1000th the diameter of human hair. Solar cells made with nanowires are efficient, lightweight, and more durable than traditional solar cells. But don’t let their small size deceive you. They can also tolerate up to 40 times as much high-energy radiation, and can be rolled up to save space, making them great candidates for use in outer space exploration!

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Zakya Kafafi

Finding Inspiration in Nature, Lehigh University, USA

What do glow worms and your cell phones have in common? They both use organic molecules to emit light. Our cell phones, laptop screens, and OLED TVs are much more vibrant and require far less power to run thanks to scientists like Zakya Kafafi, who have developed efficient and stable organic light-emitting devices that light up when voltage is applied. Her research with metallic, nanostructured organic solar cells has also supported a generation of clean and sustainable solar energy that could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls.

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Gihan Kamel

Discovering medical innovations through physics, SESAME Synchrotron, Egypt

Gihan Kamel is an Egyptian physicist known for her work at the only particle accelerator in the Middle East known as SESAME. SESAME accelerates electrically charged particles by a sequence of designed magnets until reaching almost the speed of light. This in turn produces very intense radiation which is 10 billions of time brighter than the sun, and this can then be used in exploring diverse applications in medicine, environmental science, energy, industry and cultural heritage. She is standing before the frontier of medical innovations and shouting “Open Sesame!”

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Ané Kritzinger

Trapping very small particles with light, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Imagine you are studying a single red blood cell, only five microns across. How would you measure, much less manipulate, your test subject? Enter the optical trap. It sounds like a way to catfish a date, but in reality, optical traps (aka optical tweezers, or optical levitation) allow scientists to suspend submicroscopic particles, like individual atoms, in midair using powerful, focused lasers. Ané Kritzinger, a MSc student at the University of Pretoria, is using optical traps to study quantum dot (QD) nanoparticles, or tiny artificial crystals that can emit light. Her work may one day enable us to use QD crystals in optical tweezers as an ultra-sensitive detection method for water and air pollutants.

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Zohra ben Lakhdar

Protecting ourselves with knowledge, L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science laureate 2005, Tunisia

All atoms give off their own unique “secret code” made of light by either absorbing or emitting different parts of the light spectrum. Zohra ben Lakhdar is a Tunisian scientist who uses spectroscopy to unlock this secret code. By analyzing the unique signatures of particles in the environment, she can discover how pollutants like methane and metals affect the health of our air, water, and ecosystems.

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Neysha Lobo-Ploch

Defeating Dangerous Bacteria and Viruses, FBH Berlin and UVphotonics NT GmbH, Germany

Neysha Lobo-Ploch is a scientist who fabricates high-efficiency LEDs that are compact and produce ultraviolet frequencies of light. With her UV LEDs tuned to 265 nanometers, you can damage the DNA of bacteria or viruses in water, air, or on surfaces so they can no longer reproduce. You can also use it as a detector for gases, proteins, and vitamins. Her team’s UV LEDs operate at low voltages and are quick, which work well for water purification, medical diagnostics, phototherapy, and sensing systems.

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NONOTAK

Since 2011, NONOTAK Studio, an artistic collaboration between light/visual Artist Noemi Schipfer and light/sound Artist Takami Nakamoto, have been using light to create hypnotic audiovisual experiences all over the world. They fill large, dark spaces with glitch electronica and strobing geometric lines and screens, and they use mirrors to create infinite multiplication. The pieces are staggering “invitations to contemplation,” meant to envelop the artist and viewer. Winners of several awards, NONOTAK installations around the world have pushed the envelope in the artistic synthesis between music and light artistry

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Tebello Nyokung

Delivering an alternative to traditional cancer treatment, Rhodes University, South Africa

Tebello Nyokong is a South African scientist researching photo-dynamic therapy, an alternative cancer treatment method to chemotherapy. This therapy uses dye molecules similar to those for coloring clothing, but, instead of simply brightening your wardrobe, these dyes can be activated by exposure to a laser beam. They selectively bind to and eliminate cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed in the process.

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Aydogan Ozcan

Using your phone to test your blood, UCLA, USA

Ozcan Aydogan is an engineer who uses the science of light to develop microscopes and sensors that can run on mobile phones. He and his team developed a photonic sensor that can help rapidly detect bacteria in bodily fluids or water samples by capturing periodic holographic images of live bacteria. The collected data feed into a neural network, which rapidly senses bacterial colony growth and then identifies each species by its characteristic shape and growth pattern. So now you can test your blood or water samples using the same device where you play Candy Crush!

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Jian-Wei Pan

Stopping hackers with quantum physics, University of Science and Technology, China

Jian-Wei Pan is a leading scientist in quantum information science in China, particularly in quantum communication. Quantum communication uses light particles, called photons, to carry information and create the ultimate way to foil hackers. As soon as hackers attempt to observe the information, the photons fall out of their fragile quantum state, instantly alerting everyone to the security breach.

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Evgeniy Shirshin

Improving healthcare through bioimaging, M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia

Evgeniy Shirshin is a rising star in medical science. Using new techniques in bioimaging, he has discovered methods for early diagnosis of heart failure, non-invasive techniques to monitor the health of immune cells through your skin, and has even analyzed the efficiency of new remedies for toxic snake bites. Many of his discoveries are already being tested and used in real-life medical settings.

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Jess Wade

Removing barriers to solar energy, Imperial College London, England

Jess Wade works with organic (carbon-based) semiconductors; materials that behave a little bit like metal (they can conduct electricity) and a little bit like plastic (they can be easily printed on flexible surfaces, creating ultra-thin active layers that strongly absorb and emit light). When these ultra-thin materials aren’t having a material identity crisis, they can be applied in many different ways. For example, they can be fabricated in ways such as to produce lightweight, low-cost and flexible sheets of solar panels that can be positioned easily in challenging environments, especially in developing countries.

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Desiré Whitmore

Reminding us how cool lasers are, Exploratorium, USA

Known as Dr. Laserchick, Desiré Whitmore is a science educator with a passion for physics. As a doctoral student and postdoc, she studied vibrating molecules, traveling electrons, and fluorescing quantum dots using femtosecond and attosecond lasers—(an attosecond is about 400,000,000,000,000,000 faster than the blink of an eye). As the senior physics educator at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, she helps middle and high school teachers teach science in ways that deeply engage students, like using mirrors to make shapes out of laser light, or building simple accelerometers from marshmallows and dry spaghetti (a much better science project than snack).

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Vivian W. W. Yam

Cleaner Light Sources to Save Energy, University of Hong Kong, China

Did you know one fifth of all of the electricity in the world is used for lighting? This might seem like a lot, but you can understand it when you consider a region such as Hong Kong, or cities such as Dubai or Los Angeles. Most of our artificial light currently comes from sources such as incandescent lamps, but these are highly energy inefficient. However, chemist Vivian Yam is working to solve that problem with her research on excited states for light-enabled technologies and luminescent materials for organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), which can produce high quality light for energy-efficient display and lighting.

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Junjie Yao

Finding Cancer Sooner & Deeper, Duke University, USA

Did you know when objects absorb light they give off tiny ultrasound waves just like a dolphin? Even in the human body. Junjie Yao is a bioengineer who listens to the light-induced ultrasound that emits from the human body and takes high-resolution pictures of the insides of cells, tissues, and organs. Ultrasound waves combined with light techniques allow him to see deeper and more clearly into the body than light or ultrasound would on its own. His technology can help us detect cancer more quickly, better understand the human brain and visualize human aging in new ways.