Skip to Content

Fireflies Inspire Brighter LEDs

A modification to existing LEDs based on firefly abdomens can boost the brightness of the light source.

By mimicking the jagged structure of a lightning bug’s “lantern” in a layer on top of existing LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, a team of researchers in Belgium, France, and Canada increased the amount of light from the semiconductor device by up to 55 percent.

Enlightening bug: The abdomen of this Photuris firefly is coated with jagged scales that help the bug shine brighter.

Much of the light produced by LEDs gets reflected back into the device due to large differences between how light travels through the LED materials compared to air. This reduces “drastically the efficiency of LEDs,” says Annick Bay, a doctoral student at the University of Namur in Belgium and first author on the studies. The bioluminescent light produced by a firefly faces a similar challenge when traveling out of the insect’s abdomen.

Light extractors: The jagged scales on the lantern of the Photuris firefly.

The authors examined the microscopic structure of the abdomen of a firefly found in Panama and discovered that the insect’s exoskeleton in this region of the body had jagged, misfit scales. Computer simulations and bench experiments confirmed that the sharp edges of these scales let out more light, the team reported in Optics Express.

In a second report, also in Optics Express, Bay and colleagues at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada describe how a layer of similarly jagged material that they added to a standard gallium-nitride LED increased the amount of light that shone from the device by up to 55 percent. Adding such a feature to existing LEDs could save energy, says Bay, because the craggy coating makes LEDs glow brighter.

A group of Korean researchers reported recently that nanostructures in the exoskeleton of another species of firefly act as an anti-reflective layer, which helps more light shine out of the insect’s lantern. The team built LEDs with unique lenses inspired by these nanostructures that transmitted 3 percent more light.

Unlike the nanostructure-inspired modifications, however, the jagged-scale modification can be made post-production on conventional LEDs. “One advantage of [our] technique is that it can be coated on nearly every commercially available LED,” says Bay.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

seeing is believing concept
seeing is believing concept

Our brains exist in a state of “controlled hallucination”

Three new books lay bare the weirdness of how our brains process the world around us.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.