Global campaign celebrates achievements of 11th century scientist Ibn al-Haytham

Pioneering scientific thinker

PARIS - Nobel laureates, international dignitaries, leading scientists and representatives from governments, industry and academia were part of the 2,000 guests at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris that witnessed the launch of a global campaign titled “1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham” to celebrate the scientific achievements of the renowned 11th century scientist Ibn al-Haytham and his work in optics.

The launch event was part of the high profile opening ceremony of the 2015 International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. IYL 2015 is a yearlong initiative to promote light-science and its applications for humanity initiated by the United Nations and supported by a host of partner organisations from across the world.

The global campaign 1001 Inventions and The World of Ibn Al-Haytham is produced by the UK based, science and cultural heritage organization, 1001 Inventions and Saudi Aramco’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, in partnership with UNESCO and IYL 2015.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said, “I am pleased to partner with the international organisation 1001 Inventions to launch the World of Ibn Al-Haytham global campaign, to promote light-science for the benefit of all. A ground-breaking scientist from a thousand years ago, the life and work of Ibn Al-Haytham have never been as relevant as they are today.”

The global campaign involves a series of high-profile international events, engaging science experiences including interactive exhibits, live shows, workshops, digital content on the website, educational products and teaching resources as well as a short feature film staring legendary actor Omar Sharif.

The campaign inter-links IYL2015 themes and programmes on science, arts, culture and technology using experiential learning to incite inquisitiveness and curiosity and to encourage young people to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Ahmed Salim, Producer and Director of 1001 Inventions, commented: “1001 Inventions is honoured to be a Founding Partner of the International Year of Light 2015 and we’re looking forward to an exciting year ahead. Ibn al-Haytham lived at a very important time in the history of science. A time known as the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation that spread from Spain in the west to China in the east. Here, men and women of different faiths and cultures built up on knowledge of other civilisations making important positive contributions to humanity. The achievements of Ibn al-Haytham and his peers serve as an inspiration to us today.”

Fuad Therman, Director of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, said, “We are delighted to be a partner of this important global initiative that allows us to demonstrate how history and culture can be used to investigate and address the critical issues of our time. With the life and work of Ibn al-Haytham as an inspiration, we are aiming to empower youth with skills and creative thinking methodologies that link the science of the past to contemporary issues to meet 21st century challenges.”

The Chairman of IYL 2015, John Dudley, commented: “Ibn al-Haytham’s achievements in physics, optics, mathematics, astronomy, empiricism and the scientific method have had a lasting, yet underappreciated, impact on the way we live our lives today. His story is one that is integral to the 2015 International Year of Light. I hope it motivates young people to pursue careers in science and strive towards building a brighter future.”

The campaign will now roll out in countries around the world through engaging with museums, science festivals, educational institutions, digital and social media platforms.

Ibn al-Haytham was born in the year 965 in Basra (present-day Iraq), and died in about 1040 in Cairo. He was one of the earliest scientists to study the characteristics of light and the mechanism/process of vision. He sought experimental proof of his theories and ideas. During many years of living in Egypt, ten of which were spent under what we may now call protective custody (house arrest), he composed one of his most celebrated works, the Kitab al-Manazir, whose title is commonly translated into English as Book of Optics but more properly has the broader meaning Book of Vision.

Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (known in the West by the Latinised form of his first name, initially “Alhacen” and later “Alhazen”) was a pioneering scientific thinker who made important contributions to the understanding of vision, optics and light. His methodology of investigation, in particular using experiment to verify theory, shows certain similarities to what later became known as the modern scientific method. Through his Book of Optics (Kitab al-Manazir) and its Latin translation (De Aspectibus), his ideas influenced European scholars, including those of the European Renaissance. Today, many consider him a pivotal figure in the history of optics and the “Father of modern Optics”.

Ibn al-Haytham was born during a creative period known as the golden age of Muslim civilisation that saw many fascinating advances in science, technology and medicine. In an area that spread from Spain to China, inspirational men and women, of different faiths and cultures, built upon knowledge of ancient civilisations, making discoveries that had a huge and often underappreciated impact on our world.

Ibn al-Haytham is credited with explaining the nature of light and vision, through using a dark chamber he called “Albeit Almuzlim” which has the Latin translation as the “camera obscura”; the device that forms the basis of photography.

Out of the 96 books he is recorded to have written; only 55 are known to have survived. Those related to the subject of light included: The Light of the Moon, The Light of the Stars, The Rainbow and the Halo, Spherical Burning Mirrors, Parabolic Burning Mirrors, The Burning Sphere, The Shape of the Eclipse, The Formation of Shadows, Discourse on Light, as well as his masterpiece, Book of Optics. Latin translations of some of his works are known to have influenced many Medieval and European Renaissance thinkers of the Latin West like Roger Bacon, René Descartes and Christian Huygens, who knew him as “Alhazen”. The crater Alhazen on the Moon is named in his honour, as is the asteroid 59239 Alhazen.