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Maxwell’s Torch arrives in Birmingham to mark International Year of Light

Photo of Julia King and others with Maxwell's Torch at the Library of Birmingham on 25 September 2015

Bright affair – Julia King (right) and other dignitaries grasp Maxwell’s Torch at the opening of Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham in the UK. (Courtesy: James Dacey)

By Matin Durrani 

Light was the theme in the UK’s second city last Friday when I and my colleague James Dacey attended Lightfest at the Library of Birmingham. Organized by Aston University and funded by the European Commission, the festival was a celebration of light in science, art, technology and culture during the International Year of Light (IYL2015).

Outreach activities like these often attract a self-selecting group of people already interested in science, which is great but means that others miss out. The beauty of holding the event at Birmingham’s splendid new library was that it was enjoyed by people who might have had no idea about IYL2015 or who would never have gone out of their way to attend a science event.

That’s because the Library of Birmingham is not just about books; it’s also a great public building where people come to meet up, study, eat or just enjoy the panoramic views of the city from the sunny, roof-top terrace (complete with fragrant herb garden).

In addition to a series of public lectures, there were lots of demonstrations put on by electronic-engineering students from Aston University’s Institute of Photonic Technologies, including a “laser harp”, an LED light cube and a clever gadget that lights up when you receive an e-mail or social-media post. (I’m sure that could make a great geeky product some day.) Local astronomers were doing a spot of solar-watching from the balcony, while film-makers screened a selection of short light-related films.

The festival was officially opened by Julia King, a former chief executive of the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, who has spent the last nine years as vice-chancellor of Aston University. In the photograph above, King (right) was on hand to symbolically accept Maxwell’s Torch.

Created by Mike Stoane Lighting in Edinburgh with support from the Institute, the torch marks the 150th anniversary of James Clerk Maxwell’s famous equations of electromagnetism, which show that electrical and magnetic disturbances travel at the speed of light. The torch has been touring Scotland and this was its first appearance south of the border.

If you want to find out more about IYL2015, don’t forget our collection of 10 of the best features from Physics World on the science and applications of light, which you can access here free of charge. We’ll also be posting some videos from Lightfest on to this website – so stay tuned.

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  1. M. Asghar

    Lots of things were organised during the last 8 months to celebrate the IYS 2015 including this olympic journey of the Maxwell Torch, but the most remarkable celebration so far was through the installation of a cheap but efficient sun-light-based light source of an ecological “refracting liquid-filled plastic bottle” in the walls and roofs of schools in a number of countries.

  2. Matin durrani

    M Asghar — it’s the IYL, not IYS. We covered various “Study after Sunset” initiatives, which are one of the themes of the International Year of Light, in the March issue of Physics World. You can also watch our video on the topic here:

    • M. Asghar

      Goodness, yes, somehow the sintre S conspired against lightful L; the eyes must have ben tired and the fingers fingered down wrongly, but the buck stops here and the fault IS mine even if there is the saving grace of the Sunsets! All the best for the day.

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