Reflections in glass: Creating the UN International Year of Glass

01 July 2022
Kathleen Richardson
Kathleen Richardson (second row, fourth from right, standing) and the Women in Glass. Photo credit: American Ceramic Society

After having spent most of my career in optics, I couldn’t have imagined one day having the opportunity to participate in a petition for—and successful designation of—a declared United Nations International Year of Glass (IYOG). But, working with like-minded colleagues who also wanted to elevate our humble medium to its proper world stage, that’s exactly what happened.

Building on the success of the 2015 UN International Year of Light where optics and light were front and center in a year-long celebration led by SPIE and OSA (now Optica), I joined forces with colleagues from industry, academia, and the art community to petition the UN in 2016 to designate an IYOG. We worked over the subsequent three-plus years to garner additional support worldwide.  The effort to engage the global glass community, comprised of scientists, engineers, educators, and leaders within the glass art world, resulted in more than 2,100 endorsements from more than 90 countries to complete the application that would lead to IYOG 2022.

The UN has designated International Years since 1959 to highlight industries, concepts, or ideals that promote its objectives. The proposal for IYOG was led by the International Commission on Glass (ICG), an association of scientists and technologists, research centers, universities, and companies working to promote technical understanding and cooperation in the field of glass. Year-long activities are planned to celebrate and to showcase the technical, economic, cultural, and artistic impact of glass.

Coordinated under the leadership of Dr. Alicia Duran, research professor at Instituto de Cerámica y Vidrio in Madrid, Spain, 30 speakers from around the world gathered to open the IYOG in early February. The event, of which SPIE was a sponsor, included messages from UN Secretary General António Guterres, as well as the Spanish Ambassador to the UN in New York, Agustín Santos Maraver. The international kickoff in Switzerland, also in February, celebrated science, engineering, architecture, history, art, and issues pertinent to the UN’s 2030 goals on sustainable development. The event was sponsored by SPIE and attendees included SPIE CEO Kent Rochford. The celebration continued in Washington, DC, in April. You can hear my opening ceremony lecture entitled “Seeing and Sensing: Innovations enabled by Infrared Optical Materials,” along with those of other invitees.

Following the opening ceremony was the US kickoff, which brought together leaders from across the nation to highlight their roles and activities in meeting the UN 2030 goals and recounting the pivotal role glass has held in our culture in the past and its important role moving forward. 

For example, the American Ceramic Society organized a National Day of Glass Conference. The event brought together heavyweights in private industry, such as the CEO of Corning, Inc; academic institutions such as the University of Central Florida and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; government agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, Lawrence Livermore and Savannah River National Laboratories; as well as smaller business such as LightPath Technologies and GlasWRX, LLC. Artists Dale and Leslie Chihuly, known for their beautiful glass sculptures, brought an aesthetic appreciation of glass.

The goal for the event was to showcase and educate the community about the important role glass plays in the world. Organization was a challenge, ensuring that the schedules and presence of each of these diverse entities could be melded to result in a memorable and historic event. Indeed, it was.

Conference attendees enjoyed a reception at the National Academies, thanks to National Academies of Engineering (NAE) member, Dr. David Morse of Corning. I had the privilege of opening the festivities, thanking our generous donors who supported the grassroots funding for our event, and capturing a wonderful photo of the Women in Glass in attendance.

Appropriately, this photo was taken near an NAE exhibition on the historic contributions of Women in STEM. With so many historic contributors across disciplines these great women, many from optics and optical materials, it was thrilling to have so many of the next generation of leaders in our glass community present.  A poster on the wall at NAE reminded us that “Progress was never swift, nor easy,” a testament to our sustained activities in expanding diversity and inclusion in our community.

As the optics community knows, glass has applications critical to advancing a wide range of technologies. Key inventions—like the glass window to keep out weather and enable environmental control, or lenses to aid human vision and see the universe—are often forgotten but nonetheless critical to daily life. My goal in this labor of love that is IYOG was to blend the historic contributions of industry leaders, such as Corning, Inc., and Owens-Illinois, with that of curators from the Corning Museum of Glass and the American Glass Guild—along with many others—to broaden the reach and impact of our glass family. I think I succeeded.

Kathleen Richardson is a UCF Trustee Chair Professor and a Pegasus Professor of Optics and Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Central Florida. She serves as a member of the North American Steering Committee for IYOG. She served as convening Chair of the US National Day of Glass in Washington, DC, on 5-7 April. Event highlights and presentations can be seen at

Learn more about the International Year of Glass at A recap of talks from the opening ceremonies in Geneva, Switzerland, on 10 and 11 February, can be found at


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