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How did fireflies help scientists create a brighter LED?

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On a research trip in Central America, Belgian physicist Jean-Pol Vigneron became curious about the fireflies around his campsite. What makes these bioluminescent insects so bright?

Vigneron and his team began to study the fireflies and made an illuminating discovery: The fireflies they observed had a distinctive layer of light-amplifying structures, described as “jagged misfit scales,” that made their bioluminescent flashes shine more brightly than they would without them.


In this BBC World Service animation from the 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter podcast, biologist and host Patrick Aryee explains how these high-transmission structures inspired an experiment in energy efficiency:

“The team wondered if they could emulate this to make LED lights shine brighter. They created a jagged overlayer on top of a standard LED by depositing a layer of light-sensitive material on top of the LEDs and then used a laser to create the triangular factory roof profile. And guess what? It increased light extraction by more than 50%.

“All that extra light just by adding a few new shapes.”


Read more about the 2013 discovery in Science Daily.

Previously from the 30 Animals series: What semi-secret spider trick can help us save birds?

Plus, watch more videos about biomimicry and fireflies:
Think Like a Tree: Problem solving with nature’s best ideas
In A Flash: Firefly Communication
Fireflies sparkle in a Pennsylvania field at dusk

Bonus light amplification video: How to make a Moser Lamp: 60 watts of free, natural light.

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