At NASRDA, light is precious


Power Plant

“TRY talking to the average Nigerian about light,” Professor S.O. Mohammed chuckled softly, “and he may well start cracking his knuckles in boredom—because most of us take light for granted”.
But, Mohammed was quick to add, “this is certainly not true of the engineers and scientists at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), where he is director general.
At NASRDA, visible light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation is seen as a very precious resource. It’s really what the Agency is about, he avers.
“You can think of NASRDA as a factory, where different types finished products are manufactured. We refer to these products variously as ‘data’ or ‘information’—depending on the processing. Light—especially at visible, infrared, radio and ultraviolet wavelengths—is the raw material we use”.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL, 2015).
Mohammed was speaking to The Guardian, from his office at NASRDA’s Abuja headquarters, as the world ends its third month of festivities.
In colloquial terms, Mohammed explained, “light” refers to the enhanced visibility that occurs when you flick on a switch, put a match to a candle wick or step outside at dawn and watch the horizon brighten as the sun rises.
“But here at NASRDA, the word has a much broader meaning. Depending on the context, we use it to denote electromagnetic radiation generally—although our people normally don’t work with high energy photons, such as gamma and X-rays”.
According to the IYL, 2015 website, the United Nation called for this year of festivities, to focus attention on the role of light and optical technologies in promoting sustainable development and meeting challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communication and health.
“The importance of light reaches far beyond life on Earth,’ the website declared. “Through major scientific discoveries and technological advancements, light has helped us to see and better understand the universe”.
When contacted, NASRDA’s founding D.G., Professor Robert A. Boroffice, (now Chairman of the Senate Committee On Science and Technology), termed light “the basis of life on Earth. When you eat, you are, in a sense, consuming sunlight—because plants store solar energy and pass it on to animals”.
Delegates from Ghana and Mexico, with support from Russia, introduced the proposal to the Executive Board of UNESCO at Paris, France in 2012; and the UN General Assembly made it official in December, 2013.
According to Wikipedia, the primary stakeholders are: The African Physical Society: Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences; International Commission for Optics; International Union for Pure and Applied Physics; Russian Academy of Sciences; New Zealand Institute of Physics; Royal Society of New Zealand; and National Autonomous University of Mexico.
So far, The Guardian gathers, Nigerians have staged only one commemorative event (a “1-Watt Solar Democratic Day,” in Lagos).
“But the year is still young,” Mohammed advises, knowingly. “I don’t think Nigeria will be left out!”

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