10. May 2017

How can biomedical research support retail lighting design?

Text: Betina Tschiedel Martau und André Comiran Tonon

In the past 150 years, our society has gone through a number of significant changes in lighting configurations. Before the advent of electric light, our ecosystems were regulated solely by the rhythms of sunrise and sunset. These transitions in natural lighting occur gradually over the 24 hours that comprise one day. However, the modern world has changed the way we align ourselves to such patterns. We primarily use electric lighting systems with fixed colour temperatures and illuminances during the daytime and for a large part of the hours of darkness we refer to as night.

And yet lighting systems were not applied at night in the history of mankind in the incandescent lamp era. “Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night” by Joseph Wright of Derby is one of the first paintings demonstrating light taking over the dark. From 1772 until the mill was closed and used for other purposes, the factory in Cromford, England, was in operation 24 hours a day in 12-hour shifts. At night, it was lit by candles. For some time (before Thomas Edison and James Bowman Lindsay developed their inventions) our nights were required to forfeit darkness for the needs of modern world. Nowadays, the consequences of excessive light at nighttime is regarded as environmental pollution. The night sky as seen by the majority of urban dwellers has an orangeish glow, which is substantially different from the starry dome that our ancestors were used to seeing after sunset. Light pollution is an unnatural scenario, also from the perspective of ecology and health, and medical scientists today can prove that light at night has several behavioural and metabolic effects on animal species, including human beings.

The dialogue between architecture, design and biomedical research is especially important because nowadays we recognize light not only as electromagnetic radiation capable of causing the sensation of brightness or visual stimulus. Light is also the main cue that synchronizes our biological rhythms. For that reason, light is described today as the main biological zeitgeber (“time giver”), and the concept of circadian light is already well established. Through a complex neural network that starts in our retina (which is independent from visual pathways), light stimuli are transmitted in the trigeminal nerve to important cerebral structures, such as the suprachiasmatic nuclei and the pineal gland. The latter is responsible for the production and release of an important hormone: melatonin. These elements function as our main endogenous oscillators, also known as biological clocks, marking our circadian rhythms.

The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 104 as well as in our PLD magazine app (iPad App Store).


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