Let there be light

Published in Physics World, 1 Mar 2015

For most of us, life does not stop after a hard day’s work. Some people like to sit down with a good book. Others might want to study or catch up on some household chores. Often the desire is even simpler: a chance to relax and spend time with friends and family.

Such options are always open to about five and a half billion of us. However, for the remaining one and a half billion – some 20% of the world’s population – the choices are rather more limited. These are the people in the developing world who do not have access to on-grid lighting, a feature of modern life that the rest of us take for granted. “If you’re not connected to an electricity grid,” says Beth Taylor, “then at 6 p.m. when the Sun goes down, either life stops or you’re dependent on a smoky, dangerous kerosene lamp.”

Taylor is one of many individuals – others being charity workers, businesspeople, engineers and indeed former physicists – who want to improve access to alternative off-grid lighting. She is chair of the UK National Committee for the International Year of Light, and has been championing the UK effort in Study After Sunset – an initiative that is intended to bring safe off-grid lighting to school-age children in particular. Although the initiative has only just begun, and the number of affected people is huge, Taylor hopes that by the end of 2015 she and her colleagues will have been able to make a difference. “Our aim is to leave a real legacy at the end of the year,” she says. […]

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