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Moving Mother Nature Indoors

Sarina Tracy, sarina.tracy@photonics.com

Artificial light is not pretty. Spending time under the harsh fluorescence of office, hospital or store lighting can be straining on the eyes and draining on morale. Leaning back in your office chair or hospital bed, or in the checkout line, enclosed from every angle, you would do just about anything to feel the sun on your face. Soon, thanks to a project funded by the European Commission, you can.

CoeLux, developed at the University of Insubria by CoeLux slr, is an artificial skylight that simulates sunlight indoors. Embedded into a ceiling or wall, the device consists of LEDs that reproduce the sunlight spectrum, an optical system that is designed to recreate “a sensation of distance between the sky and the sun” and nanostructures that recreate a blue sky’s Rayleigh scattering process. Several types of nanoparticles are effectively dispersed in different polymer matrices with rigid panels and films.


Photo courtesy of CoeLux Slr.


“Many areas of our lives – from energy, transportation, medicine, food safety, health and well-being – are being enhanced and even revolutionized by nanotechnology,” said Michael Jennings, European Commission spokesman for Research, Innovation and Science. “CoeLux is a great example of how science can turn a simple idea that is difficult to achieve – replicating sunlight – into a reality.”

The device was originally designed with a focus on the health care industry, but it can be applied virtually anywhere, from industrial buildings and malls, to railway stations and enclosed stadiums, according to scientists from the University of Insubria. It is especially useful for spaces without windows: basement apartments, underground offices or hospital rooms. Certain regions of the world without sunlight for months at a time, such as the Arctic and Antarctic, are also particularly suited, the developers said.

It’s not just aesthetic appeal that drives this technology, either. For thousands of years, natural light has been the regulator of our body’s internal clock, improving our sleep, appetite, memory and mood. The advent of artificial light has disrupted this natural rhythm, decreasing serotonin levels, affecting mood and increasing anxiety. When the majority of the day is spent without sunlight, human health deteriorates. In a study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, people recovering from surgery in bright, naturally lit hospital rooms reported less perceived stress and took less medication than patients in dim rooms.

The device consists of three models that produce light representing different geographies. CoeLux 30 streams the warm, lateral light of northern Europe from the wall, making a horizontal, grazing angle. CoeLux 45 provides a Mediterranean beam from the ceiling with an equal balance of both light and shade. CoeLux 60 can reproduce the bright, dramatic light of the tropics with cool, vertical light and a high contrast of light and shadow. The user can shift between morning, midday or sunset settings for all three models.

“You can experience sunny skies anytime, anywhere,” said Dr. Paolo Di Trapani, a professor and physicist at the University of Insubria and coordinator of the CoeLux project.


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