Apr 14, 2016: Researchers at the University of Toronto are looking at ways that LEDs can be used to improve body and brain functioning. It has long been recognized that colors, which are in effect light travelling at different wavelengths, can affect moods as well as body functions. The connections between the lighting and mental health is currently being explored. However, developments occurring in the fields of neuroscience offers unique opportunities for researchers, such as University of Toronto physicist, Venkat Venkataramanan.
The evolution of LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes over the last decade may or may not be coincidental to the advancements in the fields of neuroscience. However, Venkataramanan and other researchers are positioned at the intersection of the two advancements with objectives of better understanding and application of ways in which LED lights can be used to tune our body, with effects on sleep, moods and physiology.
Some of the focus has shifted from the advantages of energy conservation of LEDs, to equally important aspects of the effect that LEDs have on the body and mind. LED Lighting has been used to calm schoolchildren, and alleviate jet lag, and Venkataramanan sees much more potential for use in biology.
LEDs were introduced more than five decades ago, and the technologies progressed to where the inventors Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes. As scientists continue the quest to unlock the immense potential in light that begun and continues to power the evolution of the universe, the breakthrough was one of those that accelerated development of LED technology that powers our smartphones and even current televisions and other monitors. The work can be seen as trans-formative, as it paved the way for longer lasting and much more energy efficient lighting.
Venkataramanan notes that one of the disadvantages noted with LEDs is that emission at the blue spectrum is incomplete, and lack some of the radiance of natural sunlight, which is recognized for promoting well-being. One of the first orders of business was to use LEDs to create an artificial light that comes a close as possible to recreating the radiance of the sun. The research is comprehensive and involves investigation of health concerns with the use of LED lights.
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The concern, according to Venkataramanan, who is also director the U of T’s Institute for Optical Sciences, was not only the visual response, as there is now a wider range of colors of LED lights, but scientists discovered about a decade ago, that there are other pathways where light and some of the properties are transmitted to the eyes. In travelling through the eyes, it was discovered that some light sources trigger the production of hormones that control some of the brain and body functioning.
The hormones melatonin, which regulates your biorhythm, while promoting sleep and rest, along with the stress regulating hormone cortisol are both produced in concert with natural sunlight. The LEDs are designed to be variable in intensity and spectral emission, which makes them highly suitable for use in resetting the rhythm of biological clock that may have been disrupted by external influences such as artificial light and time-zone crossing from extended periods of travel.
Work is now being done in collaboration with Zhejiang University in China, to create LED lighting that can mimics sunlight. His research at U of T also includes several other disciplines of other branches of physicists, psychologists chemists, engineers, and neurologists, and others involved in the LED industry to test the spectral range, distribution and physiological responses to new lights.
Venkataramanan predicts that all vacuum-based lighting, that includes fluorescent office lights, and sodium-vapour street lamps will become a relic in just over a decade, as LED technologies have already proved to much more efficient and cost effective. The state of current LED technology creates lights that last 2000 percent longer than incandescent bulbs, while the conversion to spectral energy is 10 times greater.