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Scientists Reverse Engineer Firefly to Improve LED Efficiency

Scientists are always looking to improve the efficiency of mechanisms in order to reduce energy wastage. In the past fireflies have been studied and their light producing chemical reaction imitated in order to develop new methods for creating light, however now the structure of the fireflies abdomen, and more importantly their lantern, is being studied in order to improve the efficiency of LEDs.

The team of researchers involved in reverse engineering the firefly are from Belgium, France, and Canada, and released a statement to describe the reason for their study.

“Fireflies create light through a chemical reaction that takes place in specialized cells called photocytes. The light is emitted through a part of the insect's exoskeleton called the cuticle. Light travels through the cuticle more slowly than it travels through air, and the mismatch means a proportion of the light is reflected back into the lantern, dimming the glow. The unique surface geometry of some fireflies' cuticles, however, can help minimize internal reflections, meaning more light escapes to reach the eyes of potential firefly suitors.”

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Using scanning electron microscopes the group looked at the deep, internal structure of the firefly and was able to identify scales on the cuticles which looked like slanted shingles on a factory roof. By copying the shape of these scales and adding them into a computer program they found that the internal reflection problem could be reduced.

The next step was to create a physical model to test, so they coated a gallium nitride LED in a light-sensitive material and then used lasers to mark out the shape of the shingles into the material.

The result? The LED’s efficiency was increased by as much as 55%.

This is not the first time that copying nature has led to improved efficiency in LEDs, but it is the largest increase in efficiency ever gained through such a technique.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com


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  • jon walser on January 10 2013 said:
    God is still the best engineer...go figger.

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