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International Day of Light: a key event for the highway electrical industry


Published:  May 15, 2024

As the leading trade association for the highway electrical industry, we’re always keen to spotlight events that promote the importance of our sector.

One of these events is The International Day of Light, organised by UNESCO.

Taking place on 16 May every year, this day marks the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser — something that sparked innovation in the world around us.

Not too sure about the history of the laser, the International Day of Light or how it relates to the highway electrical industry (or the Highway Electrical Association)? We’re here to explain it all…

Taking it back to 1960

The foundations for the International Day of Light can be traced back to 16 May 1960.

On this date, engineer and physicist Theodore Maiman shone a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces. He found the ‘mirrors’ inside his contraption directed light in a specific direction, resulting in an unprecedentedly narrow, amplified beam.

And so, after decades of scientific theories about technology like this, the laser was born!

Shortly after, lasers like the one Maiman produced started being used in medicine. For example, Dr. Charles J. Campbell used a ruby laser to destroy a patient’s retinal tumour in 1961. This never-done-before operation paved the way for laser eye surgery today.

Maimain’s invention also revolutionised manufacturing. Lasers are now used to print and cut through materials efficiently — with minimal waste or errors. Plus, lasers have been combined with sensors to create motion-detecting security systems. And semiconductor lasers facilitate fibre-optic communication over long distances…

All this goes to show the potential light has to change the world, which is exactly what the International Day of Light is all about — and why it asks for scientific cooperation for peace and sustainable development each year.

But how does this relate to the highway electrical industry?

Looking at light in today’s highway electrical industry

It goes without saying that light is essential to every highway electrical scheme.

Streetlights ensure drivers can see road markings, obstacles (including pedestrians) and other cars when it’s dark. Therefore, they drastically reduce the risk of accidents, which results in safer highways. Traffic signals and other intelligent transport solutions use light to indicate when it is safe to move or cross the road.

In addition, when roads are properly lit, criminal activity can reduce and the fear of crime certainly reduces. So, street lighting helps people venture out after dark without fear of what’s lurking in the shadows. The result? Happier, livelier communities that regularly visit local eateries, bars and more — supporting economic development.

The International Day of Light provides an important opportunity to celebrate all the above — especially since so much of it is taken for granted.

That’s not all, though…

There are some incredibly exciting developments happening in the highway electrical industry when it comes to lighting. And 16th  May is the perfect day to encourage continued investment in them!

Take LED upgrades as an example. Right now, traditional streetlights and traffic signals are being swapped for LEDs across the UK. With drastically lower running costs and carbon footprints than older alternatives, these ultra-efficient light sources are helping bring councils and authorities — and, consequently, the whole country — closer to net-zero targets.

LED streetlights can also accommodate all sorts of new tech. For instance, they can be fitted with electric vehicle (EV) chargers to support the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars. Plus, add motion-detecting sensors connected to the internet of things (IoT) and streetlights can form the backbone of sustainable digital smart cities!

Impressive, right?

As well as shining a light on these innovative solutions around events like International Day of Light, we also do lots of work year-round to support the world of highway lighting.

Working towards a brighter future

At the Highway Electrical Association (HEA), we have three main priorities.

Firstly, as one of the largest and most influential bodies representing the highway electrical industry, we contribute to the development of various policies — including those related to lighting. Therefore, we work with the government to ensure innovative new lighting solutions are implemented effectively and safely.

Secondly, we’re committed to providing services that meet the needs of HEA and HEA-HEMSA members. As such, we run regular events like London Calling, which we hosted in April alongside the Institution of Lighting Professionals (ILP) and the London Lighting Engineers Group (LoLEG).

They’re excellent places to network, share ideas and start collaborating on new highway lighting projects — especially considering the amazing things our members are doing at the moment…

Finally, we proudly lead and facilitate the development of qualifications and training. So, when opportunities to learn about lighting-related highway technologies arise, we’ll be ready and waiting to help you get up to speed.

By doing all this, we hope to help create a strong, unified highway electrical industry that’s switched on to the importance of great lighting. Who knows what we could achieve if we all work together…

Want to become a HEA member? Contact us at 01903 705140 or email We can’t wait to meet you!

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