Straight out of Fantasy: Firefly-inspired Lights

I thought I would write a short little post about a recent innovation that I came across. Scientists at Syracuse University have figured out a way to harness the bioluminescence of fireflies to produce energy-free lights. The process requires the use of nanorods and a technique known as Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET). Research is now being conducted to make the process marketable so that one day, our LED lights will be replaced by glowing nanorods fueled by one of nature’s most illuminating processes. This is a great example of taking the best of what nature has to offer and utilizing it for the sustainable living of humanity. The only question I have to ask right now is: Why hasn’t this happened sooner? I think it may be my exposure to fantasy stories and films, but using the bioluminescence of fireflies seems almost like a no-brainer for innovative lighting technologies. It probably has something to do with the technology. As a society, we are able to make great leaps forward in technology thanks to the field of nanotechnology, and it’s nanotechnology that is allowing these scientists to create these nanorods.

But on that note, it seems that we can actually get a lot of inspiration for new technologies from the fantasy realm. Even though the Fantasy realm is based firmly out of the reach of reality (that’s why it’s fantasy), it doesn’t mean that some of the things proposed there are out of reach by technology. We just need to replace magic with science and add a little creative thinking. So instead of having firefly-filled jars for lanterns, we now have lanterns glowing with the bioluminescent nanorods. Instead of having Elven tree-top cities we can have root bridges, grafting and genetically modified fast-growing trees. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples I’m missing, but the source of inspiration is there. It may be impractical, but it can be a nice little thought exercise. Take your favorite movie or book and try to explain anything supernatural or magical in a scientific manner (making up cells called ‘midichlorians’ is not a valid scientific explanation). Who knows, maybe you’ll discover something that could become a reality.

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