by Kimberly K. Arcand

Expanding Public Science Audiences with the International Year of Light

kim arcandCredit: NASA/CXC/SAO

Creatures of this planet – including humans – have an innate and important relationship with light. The horseshoe crab knows when to come ashore due to the light of the full Moon; the dung beetle is able to navigate at night from the glow of the Milky Way; humans regulate their sleep patterns based on the rising and setting of our nearest star, the Sun. The warmth and energy from the Sun's light is, of course, fundamentally responsible for the existence of life itself on Earth.

Our connection with light extends far beyond the Sun and our Solar System. Light waves carry different amounts of energy and may travel as radio waves, infrared light, X-rays, and more. Through these various incarnations of light, the Universe is revealed. Scientific missions have examined the elements necessary for life – carbon, oxygen, calcium, and more – through the light they give off in the remnants of supernova explosions. Telescopes can detect powerful bursts of X-rays or gamma-rays light from violent explosions that signal the birth of black holes. We explore the Big Bang through light by studying its leftover glow using international observatories.

A new public science exhibit being created for the International Year of Light 2015 will explore how light is inextricably tied to us as citizens of planet Earth, as members of our Galaxy, and as part of the cosmos.

Light builds off of the lessons learned and the networks created with public science projects led by the Chandra Public Communications and Engagement team, including the award-winning "From Earth to the Universe" project from the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the follow-up "From Earth to the Solar System" program for NASA’s Year of the Solar System (a Martian year from 2010-2011), as well as the "Here, there and Everywhere" micro-to-macro analogy project in libraries from 2012-2015. Light will focus on the creation of accessible materials on the science of light for free, unique and/or non-traditional science outreach venues such as malls, airports, cafes, community centers and libraries, among others.

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By connecting the most current scientific research, data and images to more familiar phenomena, Light aims to add a layer of relevancy in programmatic materials for non-expert audiences. Light will include the creation of a central online repository of free-use materials that international locations can use. This powerful method of distributed curation and global-to-local methodologies have been proven to be a sustainable method of empowering community members to create science experiences, exponentially increasing the reach of a single-noded project. A call has recently been placed to include images on the science of light in the project at:



About the International Year of Light 2015: In proclaiming an International Year focusing on the topic of light science and its applications, the United Nations has recognized the importance of raising global awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society.




References & links:

Arcand, K.K. “Accessible Science” & “Bringing Science to the Masses.” International Innovation. July 2013.
Arcand, K.K., Watzke, M., “From Earth to the Solar System: A Case Study for Public Science Events” Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal, issue 13, April 2013
Arcand, K.K, Watzke, M., “Bringing the Universe to the Street: A Preliminary Look at Informal Learning Implications for a Large-Scale Non-traditional Science Outreach Project”. JCOM Journal of Science Communication. Vol 09, Issue 02, June 2010.
Arcand, K.K. Distributed curation and global to local methodology presentation:


kim arcand3Kimberly K. Arcand directs visualizations and other communications efforts for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, at the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) located in Cambridge, Mass. Her work supports the Chandra Communications and Public Engagement effort, including imaging and astronomical visualization and research, program evaluation, and digital storytelling. Kim co-wrote the non-fiction book “Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide To Exploring the Cosmos,” published by Smithsonian Books in 2013.


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