LEDs for photons, physiology and food


Lighting based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) not only is more energy efficient than traditional lighting, but also enables improved performance and control. The colour, intensity and distribution of light can now be controlled with unprecedented precision, enabling light to be used both as a signal for specific physiological responses in humans and plants, and as an efficient fuel for fresh food production. Here we show how a broad and improved understanding of the physiological responses to light will facilitate greater energy savings and provide health and productivity benefits that have not previously been associated with lighting.

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Fig. 1: The history of lighting technology.
Fig. 2: LED emission, human response and plant response spectra.
Fig. 3: The two photoreceptor pathways between the human eye and the brain.
Fig. 4: Light has both direct and indirect effects on plants.


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P.M.P. and J.Y.T. acknowledge support from the Department of Energy through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Solid-State Lighting Program under contract DE-FE0025912. J.Y.T. acknowledges support from Sandia National Laboratories, a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc., for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA0003525. The work of SSLS, Inc. is carried out on behalf of the US Department of Energy SSL Program, Washington, DC. G.C.B. acknowledges J. Hanifin for discussions, editorial review and referencing; F. Scheer, K. Roecklein and R. Lucas for insights on portions of the text; and B. Warfield for help with the design of Fig. 3. G.C.B. was supported, in part, by NASA grants NNX15AC14, NNX08AD66A and NNX09AM68G; NSF grant EEC-0812056; DOE grant DE-EE0008207; The Institute for Integrative Health; and the Philadelphia Section of the Illuminating Engineering Society. B.B. is indebted to 35 years of discussions with colleagues from around the world including T. Volk, M. van Iersel, M. Blonquist, J. Frantz, R. Heins, R. Wheeler and C. Mitchell. B.B. also acknowledges support from NASA grant NNX17AJ31G, the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors’ funding agencies, including the US Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories and NASA.

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Nature thanks J.-H. Ryou, J. Wargent and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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P.M.P. outlined the overall article; J.Y.T., G.C.B., B.B. and P.M.P. wrote first drafts of the introductory, ‘Lighting for human health and productivity’, ‘Lighting for plants’ and ‘Conclusions’ sections, respectively; P.M.P., J.Y.T., G.C.B. and B.B. subsequently reviewed and edited all sections.

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Correspondence to P. M. Pattison.

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Pattison, P.M., Tsao, J.Y., Brainard, G.C. et al. LEDs for photons, physiology and food. Nature 563, 493–500 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0706-x

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  • ipRGCs
  • Photon Cost
  • Basic Illumination
  • Primary Optic Pathways
  • Total PPFD

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