Since planning began for the International Year of Light (IYL) in 2009, thousands of volunteers have helped organize events and conduct outreach around the world. In celebration of the International Day of Light (IDL), the inaugural day that formed from the success of IYL, this year the IDL Steering Committee profiled some of the wonderful and committed volunteers who dedicated their activities, careers, and time to widen International Day of Light community’s reach.

As a founding partner of both IYL and IDL, the IEEE Photonics encourages volunteers and members alike to support and devise regional outreach initiatives to celebrate how light impacts the world around us.

Learn more about a few of this year’s IDL ‘Light Alumni’, their significant contributions and personal reasons for volunteering. The full list of alumni can be found at:

Danielle Harper

Wellman Center for Photomedicine, USA


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.

Alumni Message from Danielle:

I first became aware of the International Year of Light (IYL) 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 IYL has been followed by an annual International Day of Light (IDL). One thing I’ve come to realize 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 IDL 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.

Jimmi Hervé Talla Mbé

University of Dschang, 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.

Alumni Message from Jimmi:

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.

Mirwat Shamshad

Educational Services Limited

Beaconhouse System, Pakistan

Mirwat Shamshad teaches physics in Pakistan, with an MSc in Physics from Quaid-e-Azam University. She participates regularly in international programs, 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.

Alumni Message from Mirwat:

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 analyzing 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 program 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.

Lydia Sanmartí-Vila

The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), Spain

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.

Alumni Message from Lydia:

After a PhD in neurosciences and 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 (IYL) 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 (IDL).

The IYL 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 IYL, 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 IYL 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, Ph.D. students and early career postdocs.

Starting with IYL and now IDL, 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