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Biotech Science Technology

Fireflies Bring Us Brighter LEDs 111

Zothecula writes "Fireflies have helped an international team of scientists get over 50 percent more light out of existing LED bulbs. It was discovered that in the Photuris genus of firefly, scales in the insect's exoskeleton possess optical qualities that boost the amount of bioluminescence that can shine through. Those same qualities were found to dramatically increase the light output of an LED bulb."
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Fireflies Bring Us Brighter LEDs

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  • direct link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Thursday January 10, 2013 @01:51AM (#42542939)

    The linked article is just a paraphrase of this press release [], which has more details.

    • Re:direct link (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2013 @03:22AM (#42543323)

      The paper itself has even more details, and is publicly accessible:

      • by Vreejack ( 68778 )

        Apparently the headline is a lie. The scientists did NOT get more light than current LED's. Current LED's already have surface treatments. What they did was demonstrate that this firefly has its own surface treatment for the same effect. So, no--this is not going to spur advances in LED design any more than its wings will inspire new advances in commercial flight.

  • HID's (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mjwx ( 966435 )
    So thanks to fireflies I can have even brighter, more obnoxious headlights on my car.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bzipitidoo ( 647217 )

      That's a kind of bias we humans favor. Wouldn't it be better if we enhanced our night vision, instead of using brighter headlights and street lights? Or, don't drive at night, rather than try to banish darkness?

      Better to cure allergies to cats, rather than breed hypoallergenic cats? Cure allergies to cedar trees, rather than chop them all down? Go to bed when the sun sets, instead of using artificial lighting?

      But no. Our society is sacred. The world must change to suit us, not the other way around

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Show us a genetic or technological modification to give a human extreme night vision, without compromising quality of vision, or vision in bright light - at a cost lower than that which a human in a developed country pays for replacement headlamps / street light taxes in a year and POSSIBLY we could talk about altering humanity wholesale.

        Until the ability to modify ourselves matches your dream, at a cost low enough to avoid stratifying humanity into haves and have-nots I think most of us will be content to

        • But what is the real cost of our profligate use of artificial lighting? The cost in energy is not much per fixture, but we have so many that it is a significant portion of our energy usage. It screws up our circadian rhythms, at considerable costs in additional health problems. It also kills millions of insects which have evolved to orient on moonlight in order to fly straight so they can spread out. Instead, these insects now fly in circles around our lights until they are gobbled up by predators or dr

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )
            Even when autopiloting cars become the norm, the top reason will remain because there will still be actual people needing to see. If not drivers then pedestrians... or even cyclists.
      • I'm sure early humans had plenty of time to obtain night vision before the discovery of fire, but i doubt they wanted to wait longerto evolve more while being out matched by their predators. I bet they decided to put their big brains, to use, their only real advantage over both their predators and prey. You know the very thing that made us human. We probably would have be great at hunting and killing prey with our bare hands if we didn't bother inventing sharp spears and shaping rocks into arrowheads. You
      • Somebody took Philosophy 101 this semester!
    • Re:HID's (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Maow ( 620678 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @03:45AM (#42543393) Journal

      So thanks to fireflies I can have even brighter, more obnoxious headlights on my car.

      HIDs =/= LEDs.

      But yes, expect more insanely bright and poorly adjusted headlights on cars.

      I always thought that for most driving, done in urban areas, headlights were so the car could be seen, not to see with. That's what street lamps are for.

      Once away from street lamps (and oncoming traffic), then lights can and should be as bright as possible IMHO.

      • Some lux cars now have adaptive brightness headlights which sense ambient and oncoming lighting and adjust brightness to appropriate levels.

    • Well assuming you replaced headlights based on regular LEDs with headlights based upon this technology, it would mean same brightness headlights, but slightly better fuel efficiency.
  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @02:21AM (#42543073) Homepage

    If I understand what was discovered in TFA (and press release noted by Trepidity), the etched scales reduce the internal reflections of the produced light which result in some of the produced light being lost in the structure of the LED and lens.

    Does anybody know how much light is actually lost within the LED and lens? The article mentions that the extrated light is increased by 55% which implies that at least a third of the light produced by an LED is lost within the structure - would this be correct?

    I would presume that this loss would be influenced by the shape of the LED lens - correct? I seem to remember that pin through hole LEDs are designed with the emitter at the focus of the curved lens to minimize reflected losses BUT this could be a huge advantage for SMT chip LEDs which tyically just have a flat surface for the lens.

    Are there other applications in which this can be used as I would think that this could be useful in other applications? I would guess that adding the triangular "roof" structure would make it difficult to focus/direct the light produced by the LED. This would mean that the typical power dispersion patter of a typical LED would be evened out and the light output would be difficult to focus - correct?


    • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @03:00AM (#42543241)

      It's basically a misleading headline.
      Sort of like an advertising campaign a few years back, which compared a mouthwash to 'brushing alone' - which when you went into the small print was comparing it against brushing with no toothpaste.

      The picture shows a bare die LED.
      LEDs are basically never used like this, they always have a silicone or epoxy cover, which better matches the refractive index of the led die, so more light gets out.

      Is this useful in some cases, perhaps, and may inspire some modifications. But the flat figure is misleading,
      50% of light is _not_ lost at the moment in most designs of led.

      • I agree the article is lacking, but not necessarily wrong.

        Perhaps the idea is something along the lines of a Fresnel lense--individual surfaces that act to direct light that normally emits from the sides of the LED and direct it more towards the end where it is concentrated for purpose in use. I can easily see 55% of the light emitted by an LED being wasted if it is going in a direction that is not of benefit to the purpose of the device. If you'll look at an LED flashlight, the LED itself protrudes up into

        • by llZENll ( 545605 )

          That is very hard to believe, do you really think that with millions spent researching LEDs no one has tried different lens combinations, magnifiers, reflectors, and fresnels? Also, if 50% of the light was being absorbed by the LED wouldn't it get so hot it would melt itself?

          • Heat is the biggest hurdle to overcome in using LEDs for regular lighting. If you look at some of the current 60W - 100W LED lights, the heat sink is a pretty big part of the design.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        LEDs are basically never used like this, they always have a silicone or epoxy cover, which better matches the refractive index of the led die, so more light gets out.

        I've worked with some high power LEDs that have no or minimal covering over the die. Even with a large cover, if it had a matching index of refraction, you would still have the same internal reflection issues at the boundary between the air and cover, instead of between the die and air. Just now, every internal bounce will have even more material to go through.

    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @03:15AM (#42543297)

      Difficult to focus would actually be an advantage for most LED lighting applications (as opposed to LED lasers) since one of the biggest disadvantages of LED's versus other bulb sources is that they are too unidirectional and so dump a large amount of light into a small area and so they create a relatively large lux value without necessarily creating a high lumen value.

  • by ModelX ( 182441 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:20AM (#42543525)

    About two months ago Koreans published a similar success plus they found out the surface trick also worked as a good anti-reflective coating:

  • More linkspam (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @07:48AM (#42544231) Homepage

    Click through the links until you find the original abstract.

    The paper is about their experiments to understand the emittance of firefly scales. The conclusion is that the scales improve emittance by 55% when replicated on a cheap LED they were using as a test source.

    They had no plans on using this for any practical purpose, which isn't surprising given that many optical devices already use this technique, and have for years. You can buy laser-etching solar cell surfacers off the 'web. Google it yourself.

    This is simply another excellent example of a team misleading their university's press department by releasing link spammy titles, followed by the press team failing to do their job and apply any due diligence, followed by the blogrolling that occurs when a self-described TV producer reads the same link spam and fails utterly in their duty as well. /. copied it from Giz, who copied it from the press release, and no one bothered to actually look at the paper in question.

    Nothing to see here folks, move along

  • by phaunt ( 1079975 ) * on Thursday January 10, 2013 @08:05AM (#42544279)

    In 1940, Robert A. Heinlein (writing under the pseudonym of Lyle Monroe) published a story called "Let There Be Light" where the firefly's bioluminosity whas studied leading to the development of "light panels", kinda-sorta predicting LEDs. It's a nice development that now the firefly is being studied to improve those LEDs. Though the mechanism is totally different of course.

    The story is apparently in the public domain now, available here [].

  • "over 50 percent more light out of existing LED bulbs"
    This is far easier than getting 50 percent more light out of LED bulbs that don't exist.
  • Is already blinding enough. I really do not know what the designers were thinking, putting an LED equivalent of a 60 watt bulb for the power indicator. You could read my the light of the stupid thing.

  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @10:08AM (#42545081) Homepage

    Fireflies Bring Us Brighter LEDs

    A band of ingenious fireflies, in a fit of magnanimity, decided to bestow upon us mere mortals the gift of their superior LED technology. Down they flew from their mountaintop aerie, each carrying a pair of Super-Ultra-Bright (tm) Firefly-made LEDs in their little firefly feet, and upon reaching Belgium, they lightly dropped them into the hands of grateful research scientists.

  • They must have Leonardo's Workshop built.'s_Workshop []

  • I didn't read through to the full article, of course; this is Slashdot. I'll do that in a minute. But the SEM image they showed in the first link was not scales; it was just the surface of the exoskeleton. Scales are quite different.
  • How many Fireflies does it take to screw in a light bulb?


    The trick is getting them into the light bulb.

  • I was kidding about the flamebait guys. Sorry to set fire to the firefly thread with the Intelligent Design comment. Maybe Slashdot should consider a "controlled burn" strategy where certain flame-war topics are brought up on a scheduled basis to protect from uncontrolled fires.
  • So how long before we meet the new firefly yeasts? hehe. By the way for hi-tech and research this will be very useful but for common usage we still have to see if the price rate really make it a reality. For funding, research and peer finding please refer to the non-profit Aging Portfolio.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.