Customizing light for the modern world

 

A guest post by Susanne Seitinger

Tunable light

 

There is a growing popular awareness for the impact of light on health and well-being.

Many people use therapeutic lighting devices to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Travelers understand the links between light exposure and jet-lag as they observe changing light levels and colors in airplane cabin interiors. When selecting lamps, people are often confronted with a wide range of color choices, from warm-white to cool-white. All of these trends emphasize the role of color in light.

Though we typically do not realize it, all light has a particular color. For sunrise and sunset aficionados, this fact comes as no surprise. For most people, it is a dimension of light they rarely consider.

With solid-state (LED) light sources, there are new opportunities to customize the color and tune the spectral composition of lamps and luminaires. Though we are at the very early stages of understanding the possibilities of this capability, it is an exciting time for lighting.

Lighting practitioners, both those who specialize in healthcare applications those whose interests lie far beyond this field, are keenly aware of the visual and non-visual effects of light.

In 2010 Anna Wirz-Justice, Professor Emerita for Chronobiology, and Colin Fournier, Professor of Architecture and Urbanism, presented notes at the annual meeting of the Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. They presented draft design guidelines, and called for more research cooperation among scientists, architects and lighting practitioners to build on the growing base of evidence-based design practices.

Going beyond lighting devices that are explicitly therapeutic, this type of collaboration could lead to more benefits for the general population. The results could also support previous work done in less natural lab settings. To address some of these application considerations research labs, institutions and practitioner networks are collaborating in various forms.

For example, Parsons New School in New York –one of the United States’ premier professional lighting design programs – and Dr. George Brainard’s home institution, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University, have created a unique partnership focused on health and light.

The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a Light and Health Alliance that has attracted many established and emerging lighting manufacturers.

Policymakers are also taking note of scientific findings. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric is exploring ‘healthy lighting system’ incentives. The utility provider is building a case for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to authorize light and well-being programs, and provide funds for their implementation.

In the European Union, SSL-erate was launched in 2013 as part of the Seventh EU Framework Program for Research and Technological Development. At Light and Building 2014 the network announced a new platform, Lighting for People. The platform’s purpose is to share the most up-to-date scientific findings on the visual and non-visual effects of light, and the lessons learned from them.

Both the scientific community and lighting practitioners will surely discover many new links between light and well-being in the coming decades. New, sophisticated lighting platforms will allow practitioners to carefully and thoughtfully translate some of these lessons into real-world lighting applications.

We are just at the beginning of what promises to be an exciting process of shaping future uses of light.

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