The Loh Down On Science

Firelies inspire scientists to make LEDs even brighter

Is the key to brighter LEDs . . . fireflies?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet University of Namur researchers. To make LED lights brighter, they explored a surprisingly low-tech idea.

Fireflies create their glow through a chemical reaction in internal cells called photocytes. The light then passes through their hard external coverings, known as their cuticles. But some light never gets out. It's reflected back by the cuticles. 

So how do these little flying nightlights brighten up? Turns out cuticles have unique surfaces--they’re made of scales whose jagged edges minimize internal reflection. Thus, the scales emit most of the light coming from below. 

Internal reflection also dims LEDs. Might the fireflies' strategy help? To find out, the researchers put a layer of light-sensitive material on top of LEDs, then jaggedly etched the material with a laser. And before you could say “lightning bug” they'd increased the outgoing light by more than fifty percent!

And wait 'til you see what they can do with roasted marshmallows!  Well, we can only dream.

 

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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