Fireflies bring us brighter LEDs


January 8, 2013

A Photuris firefly, which was the focus of the research (Photo: Optics Express)

A Photuris firefly, which was the focus of the research (Photo: Optics Express)

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Fireflies ... they’ve allowed us to image the bloodstream and they’ve inspired the creation of a light that could run on waste. Now, they’ve helped an international team of scientists get over 50 percent more light out of existing LED bulbs. The secret lies in the insects’ scales.

More specifically, the secret lies in the scales of the Photuris firefly.

In all types of fireflies, their bioluminescence is emitted through the cuticle of their exoskeleton. In most cases, the cuticle reflects some of that light back inwards, diminishing the total amount of light given off – a similar problem occurs with the outer coatings of LED bulbs.

It was discovered that in the Photuris genus, however, scales in the cuticle possessed optical qualities that boosted the amount of light that could get through. These qualities were concentrated along the jagged edges of the roof-shingle-like scales.

A scanning electron microscope image of the firefly scales (Image: Optics Express)

In order to test if the same principle could work for LEDs, a researcher at Canada’s University of Sherbrooke deposited a light-sensitive material on a standard gallium nitride LED bulb. He then used a laser to etch a profile into that coating, similar to that of the edges of the firefly scales. As a result, the bulb was able to emit approximately 55 percent more light.

“The most important aspect of this work is that it shows how much we can learn by carefully observing nature,” said Annick Bay, a Ph.D. student at the University of Namur in Belgium, which took part in the study. The European Synchrotron Research Facility in France and Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain were also involved in the research.

Source: The Optical Society

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Very impressive! I hope to see this implemented soon!

Joel Detrow

Good stuff. But are any manufacturers interested? Is the process cost effective? Can the process be implemented with equipment already in use?

very impressive, my dawg walk light on high is 2000 lumens, viewed from the side blue dots in yours eyes for hours, I would welcome something more painful, the Maelstrom XM 18 from foursevens is just too expensive @ $2399.00 for 15,000 lumens look forward to their improvements

Bill Bennett

Unless this is extremely expensive i can see this being very useful, and if cheap enough could be a real break-through in led technology... one of the downfalls of led's is their brightness, they consume so little energy but even if you bundle a ton of them together its hard to get them very bright...I think an extra 50% could really make a difference.


@ Arahant my nitecore tiny monster TM11 output is 2000 lumens from 3 LEDs, which is brighter than a car headlight

Bill Bennett

Give me a break.

LEDs, and practically every device up from a CFL, have been using etched surfaces to boost transmittance practically forever. You can buy off-the shelf units worldwide…

Reading over the actual source's abstract found here…

It is very obvious that this was an experiment in understanding the bug, using a cheap LED as a convenient light source. This was not an experiment on improving LEDs using biomimicry.

The key takeaway is that they improved emittance by 55% compared to an LED with no treatment at all, not compared to other LEDs.

This is, like most science reporting, obvious link spam.

Read the actual paper, people.

Maury Markowitz

Thanks for the comments Maury. It also bothers me how a line or two of useful information should have been included not to get everyone's hopes up. The article as it stands is factual, but still misleading, sometimes that is the worst combination. A straight out lie is often easier to spot.

Jeff McDonald
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