Summary:

The jagged pattern of scales on a firefly’s lantern could inspire brighter and more efficient LEDs, according to a group of scientists that developed an outlayer based on a firefly design that boosts the glow of an LED.

Billions of years of evolution can produce some pretty efficient designs. A group of scientists are now modeling a brighter and more efficient LED design based off of the body of fireflies.

Fireflies have a pattern of jagged scales surrounding the light-emitting lantern part of their bodies, (see photo below) which boosts the glow of the lantern. The researchers studying the design also compared the structure to a factory roof.

The scientists, including students at the University of Namur in Belgium, decided to create an outer layer for an LED that mimicked those jagged scales and ultimately enhanced the light extraction of the LED by up to 55 percent, making it more than one and a half times as efficient as standard LEDs.

This image shows the misfit scales found on the lantern of the Photuris firefly. Researchers found that the sharp edges of the scales let out the most light.

This image shows the misfit scales found on the lantern of the Photuris firefly. Researchers found that the sharp edges of the scales let out the most light.

Such an outer layer could be used on current LED technologies (which means LED makers wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel) and the researchers implemented their firefly outerlayer on a standard gallium nitride based LED. The cost of this layer will have a big impact on how widely uses such an innovation would be, and given that this innovation is just a design in a lab right now, there’s little information on the economics.

The LED market is starting to mature, first in the industrial and commercial buildings sectors, and soon for residential buildings. Prices are coming down as the industry starts to become commoditized, but LEDs are still not mainstream tech for homes.

Biomimicry — or using nature as inspiration for efficient design — is also a growing field, particularly for clean energy technology. Pax Scientific is a startup developed just to commercialize designs found in nature.

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