Lighting designers, scientists, researchers, and California policymakers gathered for two days—March 13-14, 2008—at the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco to discuss the topic of light and health. The event was organized by Lisa Heschong, of the Fair Oaks, California–based Heschong Mahone Group, with support from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, the California Lighting Technology Center, the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research and Daylighting Plus programs, and the Illuminating Engineering Society. Heschong stated in her opening remarks, “The topic is important and we can no longer ignore the implications of light and health related issues.” As described in the conference agenda, California played host to this meeting because, “With the ever increasing goals for reducing energy use and climate change impacts in the state, the use of lighting in homes and workplaces is becoming an important focus of policy initiatives in California.”
Of the symposium's many goals, one was to create an opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange regarding this increasingly important topic of light's impact on human health. Presenters included representatives from neurology, photobiology, biochemistry, ophthalmology and vision, immunology, psychology, gerontology, pediatrics, public health, energy policy, transportation planning, building design, and lighting technology. Keynote speaker Dr. George Brainard of Thomas Jefferson University's Department of Neurology in Philadelphia, one of the leading researchers on the subject of light and health for the past 25 years, discussed the foundation research—photoreception for non-optical systems—that has moved light and health discussions from the realm of speculation to scientific findings. More than 20 speakers presented talks and participated in panel discussions examining the circadian cycle; the biological functions of sleep; circadian implications for gerontology, implications for building design, lighting practice, codes and energy policy, and utility programs; evidence-based design in hospitals; understanding human needs in buildings; as well as lighting as a public health issue.
More a means of gathering information than creating specific solutions, the symposium equipped attendees with an expanded resource base of knowledge and contacts beyond their respective disciplines. The first of many steps toward greater understanding of light's impact on health, there was consensus for the creation of more public-private partnerships to promote and fund research on this subject that is making its way to the forefront of health, design, and policy discussions.