No matter the field of study or area of investigation, research serves as a foundation of information and knowledge. Take for example the professions of medicine and science: Where would these disciplines be without their research underpinnings? But the connection between research, application, and practice varies in clarity from profession to profession. Lighting is one such example. Although the “science” of light—electricity and photometry—was born out of early 19th century investigations into electric lighting, today the modern practitioner's relationship to research has grown muddy. And that is a problem for the small sector of the lighting industry competing for acknowledgement and the same pool of resources.

Role Of Research

“There is an intrinsic link between research, education, and application that people misunderstand,” says current Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) president Ronald Gibbons, who leads the lighting and infrastructure technology group at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “It's what I call a knowledge helix. First, there is a question. That question needs to be researched. You find a solution and then educate people, and this enables them to ask the next question. Through this cycle, you are increasing knowledge every time.” Francis Rubinstein, who leads the lighting group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and is the current IES Research Committee chairman, divides lighting-related research topics into two categories: fundamental and applied. “In any technical field there is always the need to do research at all levels,” he says. Traditionally in lighting, “fundamental” research has meant the development of new lamp sources and ballast types, and it established the photometric standards for light measurement. “Applied” research topics have been driven by larger global issues such as energy and sustainability, and also have led to valuable innovations such as lighting controls, wireless protocol systems, and energy-efficient fixtures.

Ray Vella

But among leaders in contemporary lighting research, the opinion seems to be that the greatest challenges are not the obvious ones—a limited number of funding sources and research organizations and outlets for disseminating the work—but instead it is a lack of awareness by the lighting community as a whole that research has a direct impact on day-to-day practice and the organizational makeup of the lighting industry. “Designers do not understand research's link to their work in any meaningful way,” says lighting educator David DiLaura, who retired last year after more than 30 years of teaching at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He currently is the editor of Leukos, the IES's technical and scientific journal. “Strangely, the lighting design community is more or less passive about research,” DiLaura says.

Research Institutions And Organizations

Still, designers' seeming disinterest does not deter those pursing lighting research. Current focuses include new materials, solid-state lighting, roadway lighting, building systems performance, daylighting, and the impact of light on human biology and health. There is an active, albeit small, group of North American institutions and organizations—academic programs, professional organizations, laboratories, and utilities—that are dedicated to lighting-specific research. First, there is the IES, which from its formation has been devoted to the science of lighting. Through its many technical committees and its handbook, the reference “bible” for recommended lighting practices, the organization has been instrumental in defining light and lighting.

The Lighting Research Office (LRO), which today is a service of the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), is an outgrowth of the Lighting Research Institute, originally housed within the IES. Under the EPRI, the LRO is entirely funded by the lighting industry, and its function is to bridge the gap between the various components of the industry to maintain focus on lighting research initiatives.

There are several university-based centers of lighting research and education. On the East Coast there is the Lighting Research Center (LRC) in Troy, N.Y. The center opened in 1987 as the result of a proposal prepared by professor Russ Leslie at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in response to grant requests from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to establish a lighting-based research center after the oil embargoes in 1973–74 and 1979. The LRC's research areas target energy efficiency, daylighting, and health and human factors, and take various project forms including pure scientific investigation, manufacturer partnerships, and joint ventures with utility companies such as Con Edison. According to Mark Rea, LRC director since its formation, 2008 was one of the LRC's most productive years, with a funded project list representing approximately $7 million.

On the West Coast there is the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at the University of California, Davis. Established in 2004, the CLTC is a research arm of the UC Davis Environmental Design Department. The CLTC has several research initiatives under way that include daylighting, controls, energy efficiency, and product development. Like the LRC, the CLTC also partners with manufacturers and local utilities such as Southern California Edison, and state agencies such as the California Energy Commission to develop project initiatives and to pursue funding resources.

Another well-known resource is the LBNL in Berkeley, Calif. The LBNL is part of a network of national science and laboratory facilities throughout the United States. Scientist Sam Berman founded the LBNL lighting group in 1976. While the group has conducted research that concentrates on sources, ballasts, and light distribution systems, its most prevalent work has focused on controls and communication protocols.

Ray Vella

But academia has not been the sole steward of lighting research. Within the manufacturing community there is a long tradition of research to develop proprietary products and technologies, and manufacturers also have engaged in research with a broader end result. General Electric (GE), for example, funded for many years a system to address discomfort glare. Perhaps the most noticeable role lighting companies such as GE, Osram Sylvania, and Philips have played in terms of research is the development of new lamp types. Lamp technologies might not have evolved as they have had it not been for manufacturers. Today, the same might be said of lighting's newest source—light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Challenges And Next Steps

LEDs exemplify one of the greatest challenges facing research as a whole—funding. Simply put, active areas of research are determined by available resources, and available resources are determined by interest. Add to the equation government agencies, such as the Department of Energy (DOE), and a particular topic stands a better chance of being funded. The DOE has taken an extremely active role in leading research investigations for solid-state lighting, offering nearly $20 million in 2008 alone for the 13 projects within its core technology research and product development program. This has caused some frustration on the part of researchers focused on other lighting-related topics, who feel DOE funding is disproportionate. Comparatively, nonlight source related topics have receive less than $2 million in support.

One way to ensure lighting research has a viable future is to make it more accessible. “Research should be part of the cultural expectations of the practitioner,” Rea says. Yet that is difficult when there are a limited number of conferences within the lighting industry to foster a sense of camaraderie among researchers. “If you want your work to be seen and heard, it's more common to submit a paper to notable science and medical journals,” Rubinstein says. In fact, there are only two lighting research journals published in English—Leukos in the U.S., and Lighting Research and Technology in the U.K. To make Leukos more widely available, the journal, since 2004, exists solely online through the IES website. Yet, DiLaura's greater concern is whether lighting is reaching the point when there no longer will be enough articles to support two English-language journals.

With any luck that is not the case, as a current initiative to establish an international online research database proves. The project is being overseen by the LRO via a contract from the IES. The goal, according to EPRI/LRO executive director Alan Lewis, is to keep track of all lighting-related research. Initial work already has identified more than 170 individuals and organizations involved with lighting research. There is no denying the valuable and necessary contributions to lighting gained through research. “We are working on the cutting edge all the time,” Gibbons says. The issue in the future will be to define research needs and how to develop those programs. Only then can research be integrated into the practice of lighting design.