Light has fascinated humanity since the beginning of civilization. From the alignment of the rocks at Stonehenge to the second line of the Torah: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light,” virtually every human culture has appreciated the importance of light for survival.
Not only does light provide warmth and comfort, but it allows crops to grow and thus, life to flourish. Early humanity abstractly understood that plants derive energy from light that is converted into chemical energy in the form of nutrients by a process known as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis literally means “making from light.” Neolithic farmers learned to record the amount of daylight during specific times of the year and scheduled their harvests by the seasons. Thus harnessing photosynthesis sustained families and communities and became the cornerstone of civilization. Ancient peoples’ study of the seasons gave structure to their lives and allowed them to create order out of chaos. Later, in the age of Enlightenment, this notion of the seasons leading man from ignorance was expanded upon as light became a symbol of humanity’s path to discovery and understanding.
Human physiology and psychology are deeply tied to light. Light has played a critical role in the evolution of our sense of sight, for example. The human eye detects light, traps it, and converts it into neurological signals which are interpreted by the brain. Artists harness light by depicting the world as they see it using pigments and dyes. Light is so critical to life that many species have developed methods to generate their own light by a process called bioluminescence, which aids in their ability to find nutrients and communicate with one another. Scientists have learned a great deal more about the science of light since the days of the early farmers and have engineered many ways to capture and manipulate it. Lenses and mechanical vision have allowed us to overcome biological shortcomings, enabling us to construct cameras to permanently capture images of our world and microscopes and telescopes to see beyond our natural capability.
This September we will be delving into the many facets of light and how humanity interacts with it. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so please join us as we explore how the photons of light that make up that picture tell us what they have to say.
Stephanie DeMarco, Nisar Farhat, and Alex Sercel