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Science is often considered to be separate from society, a belief that keeps up the illusion of the objectivity of science. Every aspect of our work, from the conception of an idea to the interpretation and communication of our results, is affected by who we are as people, our belief systems and our socialization. Acknowledging this is important because our work has direct and indirect societal implications. We scientists need to develop an awareness of who our research benefits, how our research affects society and what research gets funded if we are to ensure that we work towards social justice. Development of such an awareness have been initiated in science but mostly in the fields of biology and medicine. To address this in our field of optics and photonics, we are starting a 6-week program this year called the ‘Social Issues In Optics and Photonics Salon’. As we go along, we also hope to build a community of people who want to radically change the way we think about optics and photonics research and its relationship to the society we live in.

We invite you to join us for a lively, weekly discussion series hosted on Zoom and beginning on Thursday, October 13. If you are a resident of the Greater Boston area, we invite you to join us for an in-person session on November 17 at the Harvard Democracy Center (with a hybrid Zoom meeting available for non-local folks). And be sure to join for our concluding session, featuring a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon!

Schedule of Salon Topics

  1. What is optics and photonics and who is included? A historical perspective

Oct 13, 2022, 3-4:430PM EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

Featuring guest speaker Dr. Azzedine Boudrioua of Universite Paris 13 Nord

Who gets to decide what is and what is not optical “science” or “technology”? 

Scientists traditionally excluded from the history of optics and photonics—non-Eurocentric history of optics, including indigenous optical technologies 


2.  What entities influence optics and photonics research? Innovation and the needs of the state

Oct 20th, 2022, 4:30pm-6pm EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

Research funding and scientists’ moral and ethical responsibilities 

Nonlinear optics and the cold war—excerpts from “The Consultants: Nonlinear Optics and the Social World of Cold War Science” in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 


3.  What is the cost of developing optical technology? Natural resources and environmental sustainability

Oct 27th, 2022, 4:30-6pm EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

Hidden “cost” of optics—resource mining, displacement of people—and social justice 

A case study of astronomy telescope on the sacred lands of Mauna Kea, Hawaii 


4.  Accessibility and equity in optical technology: A case study

Nov 3rd, 2022, 4:30-6pm EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

How accessible are existing optical technologies? Whose responsibility is it to make these technologies more accessible? 

Participants bring examples of optical devices to discuss accessibility, equity, and social impact 

5.  Forming sustainable and mutually beneficial international collaborations, particularly in the global South: Why is it challenging?

Nov 17th, 2022, 5pm-6:30pm EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

Featuring Panelists Dr. Esther Freeman, M.D., Ph.D., Dr. Lilit Garibyan, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. Thanh-Nga Tran, M.D., Ph.D.

Discussion of a case study: a currently unsolved problem in the non-western world that could be solved with optics but hasn’t yet been—exploration into funding sources and brainstorming how to form sustainable and mutually beneficial collaboration 

6.  Follow-up session and Wikipedia edit-a-thon

December 1st, 2022, 3pm-4:30pm EST (virtual meeting, RSVP for Zoom information)

Featuring guest facilitator Dr. Jessica Wade of Imperial College London

Take action! Edit Wikipedia to add information about the contributions of marginalized or historically excluded development and groups in optics and photonics 

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