The Nature of Light

Location: University Museum of Natural History, Parks Road

Date: Saturday 11 June 2022

Time: 10:30 - 17:00

RSVP:  Free to attend, book your ticket at the registration webpages given
Please contact with any queries.



Visible light is the most pervasive feature of the observable Universe to humans, so its explanation has assumed a pre-eminent role in our attempts to understand the physical world around us.

This conference will start with an examination of light and its properties with the formulation of the classical theory of optics by Newton, Huygens and others, and then move on to the theory of colours which involved not only natural philosophers, but artists and writers.

The understanding of electricity and magnetism in the 19th century led ultimately to the formulation of the electromagnetic theory of light summarised in Maxwell's equations which underpin the vast range of technologies still in daily use. In the 20th century, the role of the speed of light became very important in relativity and quantum theory.

The conference will examine the steps in our understanding of light to illuminate its history in our culture and in the technological developments over the past few decades.

Registration to attend this conference is free but booking is required to attend the conference as below.






MORNING CHAIR: Professor Sabine Lee (University of Birmingham)


10:40 Professor Mark Dennis (University of Birmingham) - Classical Light and Its Properties [video]

11:30 Professor Olaf Müller (Humboldt University of Berlin) - A Very Brief History of Colour Metaphysics [video]

12:20 Dr Arianna Borrelli (Technical University Berlin) - From Rays to Waves and Beyond: Light Propagation in Historical Perspective [video]


AFTERNOON CHAIR: Professor Samuel Fletcher (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)

2:15 Professor Claudia Maraston (University of Portsmouth) - Elusive Light: Dualism and Natural Limit [video]

3:05 Professor Bill O'Neill (University of Cambridge) - Seeing the Light: Key Inventions That Have Illuminated Our World [video​​​​


16:30 SUMMARY OF THE DAY'S PROCEEDINGS - Professor Tom McLeish FRS (University of York) [video]

There will be a very special conference dinner alongside the dinosaurs at the University Museum of Natural History in the evening following the end of the conference with an after-dinner talk by Dr Catherine Higgitt (National Gallery) on the discovery of the "abandoned" Leonardo da Vinci sketch under the Virgin of the Rocks painting by the use of imaging techniques.

Booking to attend the conference dinner can be made at: