The process of scientific discovery and investigation has been central to Mark Rea’s work throughout his career. As a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1970s, he studied visual performance and color vision and is now regarded as an expert in the area of circadian photobiology, mesopic vision, and psychological responses to light. He has served as the director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., since its founding in 1988.
Difference between training and education?
Training is a mechanical process aimed at acquiring near-term skills. Education provides the context for what you do in life.
Is there a text that has had an impact on your thinking about light?
Color Science by Günter Wyszecki and W.S. Stiles (Wiley-Interscience, 2nd Edition, 1982). It was first published in 1967. It brought together the subject of color measurement in a way so that people could understand the basics.
How has lighting research evolved?
Research evolves from discoveries in both science and technology. New technology opens up avenues for inquiry but scientific discoveries are much rarer.
Most misunderstood aspect of research?
Science is storytelling. You’re trying to understand and then explain how a phenomenon works. The math comes second. People think it’s the other way around, somehow it’s all about equations, but those are just ways of formalizing the concepts in the story.
What led you to write Value Metrics for Better Lighting (SPIE, 2013)?
I was at a conference, in one of those multipurpose ballrooms, seated next to a mechanical engineer. He commented, “Isn’t this energy-inefficient lighting (filament lamp chandelier) overhead deplorable?” When I responded that it was actually the most efficient lighting because it was delivering maximum sparkle per watt, he looked at me like I was crazy. It got me thinking: We measure the wrong stuff and keep coming back to metrics that don’t represent what we are trying to do.
What do you try and impart to your students about the research process?
It’s the last frontier of discovery. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to discover something that nobody’s done or thought about. •
“Collecting data is not science. It’s only a means to tell the story.” -- Mark S. Rea, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.