top of page

Shining a Light on Sustainability

Observed on 16 May, the International Day of Light commemorates the important and multifaceted role that light technology plays in the well-being of societies around the world. Light technology also contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) toward healthier and more prosperous global communities.


Photonics is the science of generating, detecting and manipulating light waves to serve societal needs. Innovations in photonics have contributed significantly to technological advances in the 20th and 21st centuries, many of which humans use everyday but often take for granted. For example, photonics connect populations around the world via communication networks such as the Internet. This makes education and business more accessible to people across the globe, including in remote communities. Other examples of photonics technology include lasers, smartphone screens, televisions, computers, home lighting and solar energy.


The development and use of photonics support most of the SDGs toward a prosperous future. Photonics have direct and indirect impacts in creating peace, justice and stronger institutions (SDG 16). Quality education (SDG 4) is supported through innovations in remote learning and high-speed Internet. Ending poverty (SDG 1) is supported through a range of light technologies like precision agriculture and UV light for clean water. Reducing inequalities (SDG 10) is supported by allowing citizens in marginalized and remote communities to access the same online resources that people in more developed settings have access. The use of photonics in serving communities also supports industrial innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9) though advancements in smart manufacturing systems. And of course, photovoltaics and solar energy are covered by SDG 7 - affordable and clean energy.


Developments in photonics have changed how the world functions. They range from the interconnectedness of the Internet to advancements in healthcare systems such as laser eye surgery and life-saving innovations like CT scans, pacemakers and endoscopies.


Photonics technology also benefits the agricultural world with agri-photonics. One of the most obvious contributions in this field is growing plants without sunlight. UV lighting has effectively allowed indoor crops to grow and thrive without depending on good weather or sunny conditions. A lesser-known contribution to agriculture is laser technology and imaging sensors to map soil and crop density, and gather information on the nitrogen density of certain crops. These revolutionary modalities help make food security more accessible.


In fact, we can thank photonics for most of the technological innovations we enjoy today and that define modern society. Advances in education, agriculture, medicine and institutions would not be possible without this critical branch of research and technology which is so often underrepresented in conversations on progress since the Industrial Revolution.

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha

Image credit: Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash


bottom of page