A Very Merry Bioluminescent Christmas

It’s Christmas time again! A time of year wrapped in cultural traditions as well as seasonal and celestial significance. For those of us in the northern hemisphere it’s the darkest time of year, the winter solstice occurring on the 21st of December and bringing only a few hours of daylight to much of the northern parts of the world. With so much darkness in our daily lives, and in celebration of the earth beginning it’s return to longer days, the custom of the Christmas lights is one of the longest held and most cherished traditions of the season.

45,000 christmas lights on a single house in Toronto. image: Lloyd Alter.

We decorate our trees, houses and buildings with festive lights to celebrate this time of year, which also lights up the electricity generation levels across the globe. While we still have restricted choices as far as sustainable sources of energy goes, as individual consumers/designers we have a good choice of which lighting fixtures we use, which can have a significant impact on saving natural resources. Huge advances have been made recently in mainstreaming energy efficient light bulbs, phasing out traditional energy guzzling incandescent light bulbs.

LED christmas trees

LED’s used for christmas tree lights with stunning results. image from seasonchristmas.com

LED’s (light emitting diodes) are the top end of sustainable lighting  fixtures –  They have long life spans, are durable, mercury free and non-heat producing. LED’s are the most energy efficient bulbs on the market today, yet their high initial cost (even though over time is recouped due to minimal maintenance and long working life) has slowed their uptake…. Biomimicry to the rescue! Researchers have now found a way to drastically reduce the cost of LED bulbs by mimicking the internal structure of a fireflies light emitting abdomen.

firefly LED design inspiration

LED design innovation derived from studying Fireflies. image from asknature.org.

By observing the three layered structure of the fireflies lower abdomen, researchers were able to develop  a curved lens which has the same properties as the traditional (and very expensive) anti-reflectivity coating used in LED lights. This design change will greatly reduce the cost of producing LED lights, making a sustainable product even more efficient and affordable for a wide range of applications.

View of Europe from space- lit up like a christmas tree. image: unknown

Nature has found some stunning ways to create light independently from the sun that we can potentially learn from. Deep sea creatures use bioluminescence to thrive in a world of total darkness, and phosphorescent plankton lights up the shallow ocean waters regularly.

Ocean edge and deep sea bioluminescence. Maldives beach image from newscientist and ‘Moon Jellyfish’ image from noaa.com.

On land, luminescence is rarer, limited to glow worms, some types of fungi and of course fireflies, which can put on a spectacular display of “living light”. In some regions of South East Asia, entire river banks of trees light up with thousands of fireflies twinkling and flashing, sometimes in synchronicity… truly nature’s most spectacular Christmas tree.

nature's christmas tree

Tree lit by the glow of fireflies. image from blogspot