An electrical engineer by training, Peter Ngai didn't plan on a career in lighting. Instead, lighting found him during an elective course needed to complete his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Ngai, a nationally recognized authority on lighting technology and luminaire design, has spent all but two of his 30-plus-year career at Peerless Lighting (now part of Acuity Brands Lighting). His research in fluorescent lighting pushed the technology from T12 to T8 lamps in the '80s and then from T8 to T5 lamps in the '90s. Interested in how lighting technology can achieve energy efficiency while maintaining design integrity, Ngai has turned his attention to solid-state lighting, which he believes will become the mainstay of the industry. But no matter the technology, at the root of Ngai's passion is lighting's ability to express human experiences. As Ngai says, “Good lighting is the soul of what we do.”
What have been the “game-changers” in the industry?
Energy efficiency, codes and regulations, understanding the basic science of lighting, and the creation of a generation of lighting professionals.
If solid-state lighting is the future, can the lighting industry comfortably meet the pace being set by the semiconductor industry?
The lighting industry has been a slumbering giant. Now we have a very strong companion industry—semiconductors. They have trained their eye on lighting. They can help propel us to the next level.
Where do you see solid-state lighting heading?
We've already experienced some of the pitfalls of early LED luminaire designs. Now we have a better understanding of what LEDs can provide so [that] they can make a real impact on the design of lighting.
Can technology ever get in the way of design?
[New technology] can be intoxicating, but we have to remember that it is simply a foundation—so that lighting remains our focus.
What goes into a great design for a light fixture?
A great luminaire is one that can celebrate lighting with light.