Inside Rensselaer
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Energy@Rensselaer:
Illuminating the
Future of Lighting

Lighting technology touches nearly everything we do — from illuminating our homes and workplaces, to making a left turn at an intersection, or snapping a photo with a cell phone. Given the sheer ubiquity of lighting, it’s easy to take the technology for granted—but lighting is the subject of intense scrutiny by scientists at two Rensselaer research centers.

The field of lighting is undergoing a fascinating, revolutionary transformation. The century-old lightbulb is steadily ceding ground to its high-tech successor, the light-emitting diode (LED). While the promise of LEDs as a long-lived, energy-efficient heir to lightbulbs is undeniable, the true promise of LED and solid-state lighting technology transcends illumination. LEDs offer the potential to control, manipulate, and use light in entirely new ways for a surprisingly diverse range of areas.

Rensselaer is a leading voice in expanding the frontier of lighting research. The university has assembled a critical mass of experts and researchers who are investigating the full spectrum of lighting and lighting research. Much of this innovation is facilitated through a pair of world-class, industry-focused research centers: the Lighting Research Center (LRC) and the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC). The complementary centers, both situated about 25 kilometers east of where Thomas Edison perfected the first mass-produced incandescent lightbulb, are using lighting to create a brighter, more sustainable future.

Established in 1988, the LRC has built an international reputation as a reliable source for objective information about lighting technologies and applications. The ERC, launched in 2008, is developing new technologies and applications for improved and smarter lighting devices and systems.

“LEDs and lighting research present a rich opportunity, in terms of energy efficiency and human health, and toward unearthing a host of yet-undiscovered applications,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “With innovation, ingenuity, and old-fashioned hard work, the LRC and ERC are rewriting the rules for making, manipulating, exploiting, and understanding the effects of lighting. And by partnering closely with industry, we are ensuring these new technologies are moving swiftly from the lab to the marketplace.”

Lighting Research Center
“We see the LRC as the nucleus for independent lighting research and education, as well as the pre-eminent source of objective, timely information about lighting technologies, applications, and about human response to light,” said Professor and LRC Director Mark Rea. “For more than two decades, the LRC has transformed science into real-world applications, while always remaining true to its mission—advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment.”

For example, research by Associate Professor Nadarajah Narendran led to the development of the Scattered Photon Extraction method for improving white LED performance by more than 30 percent. Globally, the LRC is performing laboratory testing of LED-based, off-grid lighting products under a World Bank Group contract to improve access to modern, clean lighting in Sub-Saharan Africa. In another project, Associate Professor Mariana Figueiro conducted the first field studies examining how light impacts teenagers’ sleeping habits and school performance, contributing to a new daylighting design guide for schools by Professor Russ Leslie.

Smart Lighting ERC
The Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, is advancing the fundamental scientific and engineering approaches required to realize the potential of LEDs and solid-state lighting. The ERC team is working to create better LEDs, as well as new sensors and systems required to effectively monitor and control these LEDs.

“We see the ERC as the advanced research engine for future solid-state lighting systems that will bring a vast new range of capabilities to lighting,” said Professor and ERC Director Robert Karlicek. “We currently work with the LRC to define critical human-factor considerations for lighting to ensure that future LED luminaires, lighting sensors, and control technologies are both energy efficient and optimized for human health and safety. These lighting solutions provide additional benefits, including data delivery and efficient, vivid displays.”

In one project, Professor Partha Dutta works with an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate students to demonstrate the feasibility of LCD-based virtual windows. To make virtual window technology a reality, the displays need to be bright and efficient enough to reproduce light from an actual window. Professors Christian Wetzel and Shawn-Yu Lin are developing the technologies needed to create a family of polarized LEDs in various colors that will achieve the required brightness and reduction in energy consumption.

For more information on the LRC and Smart Lighting ERC at Rensselaer, visit www.lrc.rpi.edu and http://smartlighting.rpi.edu.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
1000 Troy Building, 110 Eighth Street, Troy, N.Y. 12180 or to leibat@rpi.edu.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 10, May 27, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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