What fireflies can teach us about tech

See? Pretty! Photo: Steve Hoefer/Flickr

See? Pretty! Photo: Steve Hoefer/Flickr

When it comes to technology, developers steal from nature all the time, whether it’s a self-filling bottle or a robot that acts like a protein. What researchers at Yale are working on is no different.

The plan was to make LED lights more efficient, so scientists are turning to the common firefly. Fireflies generate light through chemical reactions in specialized cells called photocytes. However, that light is dimmed when some particles are reflected back into the cells as they try to pass through the lower half of the bug’s exoskeleton, called the cuticle. But the cuticle itself has a way of combating that effect, with sharp, jagged scales that coat the outside surface. The scales’ unique geometry help light reach the surface, where female fireflies – and delighted humans – can see it.

LED lights suffer from the same problem of internal reflection. So, those at Yale figured that if the scaling on fireflies’ cuticles helped project their light, why couldn’t it work on man-made lights? Researchers crafted a special skin for LEDs mimicking the scales, resulting in a light that’s 55 percent more efficient.

Mother Nature: 754,576,867,867,906. Human Technology: Let’s say 1. We did invent the  space shuttle, and that thing is pretty cool.


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