‘Decolonizing Light’: Canadian university project aims to redefine ‘physics as a social field’

A Canadian university is embarking on a project to fundamentally alter physical as a science by “decolonizing light”.

A group of researchers from different disciplines at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, is working on the project, which seeks to change the way the science of physics is perceived as an academic discipline, according to a report by The university solution. The project targeted light specifically because it is ubiquitous in all cultures and used in a number of scientific fields.

“The Decolonizing Light project explores ways and approaches to decolonize science, such as revitalizing and restoring indigenous knowledge and capacity building,” said the website for project statuses. “The project aims to develop a culture of critical reflection and investigation of the relationship between science and colonialism.”

Established in 2021, the project is led by Tanja Taimel, special adviser on equity, diversity and inclusion to the dean of Concordia University and an associate professor in the university’s Center for Engineering in Society. The project is also led by the Associate Professor of “Studies of the First Peoples”, louellyn whiteand Associate Professor of Physics and Chemistry and Biochemistry, Ingo Salzmann.

The project has a payroll of 15 collaborators, including: Concordia “Indigenous Pedagogy Advisor” Donna Kahérak was Goodleaf; environmental researcher and research chemist Gregor Kos; three representatives of the Kahnawà:ke Environmental Protection Office (KEPO), an indigenous environmental advocacy group; astronomer and indigenous activist from the University of Toronto Hilding Neilson; and 9 grade and grade workers. The project also has the collaboration of five researchers from the main universities around the world.

The project is also financially supported by the New Frontiers in Research Fund. The NFRE is a research fund established by the Canadian government in 2018 to support “high risk/high reward, interdisciplinary transformative research led by Canadian researchers working with Canadian and international partners.”

“This fund seeks to inspire innovative research projects that push the boundaries into new and exciting areas and have the potential to deliver game-changing impacts,” the NFRE website states.

in a paper 2021 Outlining the project, Salzmann, White, Goodleaf and Tajmel said that the “sole scientific authority” of physics was the reason they targeted it. “Physics is commonly regarded as the ‘most objective’ and ‘hardest’ science, fundamentally defining key scientific concepts such as energy, matter, force, light, space and time, for all other sciences,” the professors wrote. For our purpose, it is important to understand Physics as a social field. rather than as ‘pure knowledge’ independent of social values ​​and decisions”.

The professors specifically chose light “because light is ubiquitous in all societies, languages, and cultures. In everyday life, light is a key element that defines familiar aspects such as color and warmth. In physics, light is exploited as the main carrier of information about nature (eg, in astronomy), it is used as the main probe for fundamental properties of matter (eg, in spectroscopy)”, and it is being researched at major facilities like the Canadian Light Source in Saskatchewan, the professors added.

“The purpose of our project is not to find new or better explanations of light; we do not seek to improve science
‘true,’” they continued. “Rather, our project initiatives are motivated by the marginalization of women, blacks, and indigenous peoples, particularly in physics. We consider marginalization as a key problem for both social equity and scientific quality. In addition, we consider unacceptable scientific knowledge that reproduces biases and colonial power relations”.

The project is still active. According to their website, the last event was “An Evening of Indigenous Star Stories with Cree Astronomer Wilfred Buck” on October 26.

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