There are more than seven billion of us spread over the five continents nowadays. According to the United Nations, we will hit more than nine billion by 2050.
Such astounding numbers put forth some pressing challenges to all sectors in our society. How will we feed everyone – not only in the quest for overcoming hunger, but also granting the nutrients people need to lead healthy lives? How will we grant water and energy for households and industries in a world of shrinking resources? How can different countries and regions adapt to a changing climate and its effects on the environment and on our cities? There are a myriad of other questions that pop up with these – and the heat waves, droughts and storms we see multiply all around the globe serve as a good reminder that we won’t be able to ignore any of such issues if we want to thrive as a species growing at a fast pace. Not only social and economic activity changes the environment and echoes on climate but both climate and environment, too, weigh heavily on human conditions of life and resonate on economic activity.
Car uncovered by the low levels of water at the Atibainha reservoir, Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2014. Credit: Futura Press.
The Warring States period of China, between 475 and 221 BCE, was a time of academic and scholarly prosperity when many schools of learning were set up. Some are well-known in the world today, such as Confucianism and Taoism, but some are not so well-known. One school that is little known in the west but is particularly important with regard to science and technology is Mohism, founded by Mo Zi, who paid great attention to natural science and engineering. Among his many contributions, it is noteworthy to recall his achievements in optics since we are celebrating the International Year of Light in 2015. His major contributions include: an outline of the basic concepts of linear optics, the straight-line propagation of light, images and shadows, the reflection of light by plane, concave and convex mirrors, the pinhole camera, and the refraction of light. These are recorded in the Book of Mo Zi (1 – 5).
Mo-Zi, 468 – 376 BCE
In another development, Liu An, (179 – 122 BCE), the King of Huai-Nan in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE to 9 CE) and a Taoist master and thinker, also made important contributions to optics. Taoism attaches great importance to natural science. The world famous Chinese bean curd food, tofu, was invented by Liu An as a by-product while making elixirs, or alchemical medicines. These are recorded in the Book of Huai-Nan and the Wan-Bi-Shu (6-7). In these writings the reflection of light by multiple mirrors, used to set up the world’s earliest surveillance periscope, was described (7). Also recounted are the focusing of sunlight to light a fire using a concave mirror or a lens made of ice.
Though these early contributions in ancient China have been noted and studied by certain renowned scholars such as Joseph Needham (4) and some famous popular science writers (5), they are not widely known. For instance, they are not even touched upon in various recent reviews of the history of optics.
As the International Year of Light draws closer upon the horizon, Japan is busy planning their involvement in this once-only international event.
From committees to initiatives, we hope to bring knowledge and development to Japan surrounding the central topic of light and light-based technologies. As the node for Japan, I’m looking forward to encouraging national participation in the initiative.
Well, we have our first big piece of news to announce about IYL2015 in the UK – The Duke of York has agreed to become our patron! The Duke of York is Prince Andrew, son of Queen Elizabeth II and a longstanding supporter of UK science and technology.
This is really great news for us. We can be sure of getting some sound and sensible advice from the Duke about the kind of activities we are planning for IYL2015, based on his own wide experience. We hope he will get involved in a number of events around the UK during the Year. And his support will undoubtedly raise the profile of the Year in the media, and with all the other stakeholders that we hope will participate in IYL2015.