Neon sign reading 'The Light Special'
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Light special: LEDs, the Internet of Things and malaria

Image credit: Southern Neon for E&T / Phil Adams

Want to learn about the bright future of optical technologies? Or how to feel light-hearted? Let E&T enlighten you.

This summer we took the kids to the brilliant Nikola Tesla museum in Smiljan, Croatia, the tiny village where the genius engineer was born in 1856. We were treated to a demonstration of the famous Tesla coil. The curator switched on the coil, switched off the lights and after much dramatic sparking a volunteer walked up to the coil with a neon tube and – just like magic – there was light.

Tesla himself used an impressive range of vacuum tubes at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to demonstrate his invention of wireless electricity for the Westinghouse Electric Company.

Southern Neon, which made the sign on the image above, says the technology has hardly changed in more than a century and neither have the glass benders who still love their artistic work in the same way. “Thanks to the likes of Tracey Emin there has been an increased interest in neon as an art form, with more people appreciating the bespoke/handmade aspect,” the Southampton company told us. “Any design can be achieved as long as the glass can be bent to shape.”

Neon is just about the only lighting that hasn’t changed much in recent decades. This month the European Union’s ban on new halogen lamps for all but a few specialist uses came into effect – all made possible of course by the march of LED technology. It was hard to find any other lamp type at this year’s Light + Building trade fair in Frankfurt, and they are making their way into powerful architectural lighting and even horticulture. It was not so long ago that compact fluorescents were the greener alternative but now they too are on their way out. Nick Smith traces the story of the humble light bulb.

As margins decrease, lamp makers are either leaving the business or looking for ways to diversify and to add value to their products. One way is ‘human-centric lighting’ that adjusts to your body clock and relaxation/work patterns, but is the science yet ready? Rebecca Northfield sheds light on the latest developments.

Light-based technologies are also taking on malaria, making satellite communications faster and LiFi could offer an exciting alternative to Wi-Fi for smart buildings and the Internet of Things that starts with the humble but ubiquitous light fitting.

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