Research : Clever lights and deep sea life

Nereya Otieno returns with her research column

A New Kind of Light
What can you do when your taste in design conflicts with your sustainability conscience? Because when it comes to lighting, staying green isn’t always so easy.

Luckily, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has started a new project to quell those troubles and harmonise design, sustainability and energy conservation. The original concept was made by AT Lighting, a small design company. Fotonik – DTU’s department of Photonic Engineering – has helped to further develop CooLED, a custom-made light source that cuts energy consumption by up to 40%.

What’s more, CooLED is developed with iconic lamp designs in mind – specifically the classic line of PH lamps from Louis Poulsen. The LED light bulbs were created to emit light in a way that flatters the design with minimal light loss.

LED light is created using semiconductors. Lenses are then applied to direct the light more precisely to where it is needed, for example in spot lights and LED street lighting. CooLED uses a specially-designed lens that can either focus or splay light according to which lamp the lens is designed for.

“The aesthetics of the light in Louis Poulsen’s lamps are very important,” says Fotonik project manager Jesper Wolff. “So the CooLED light sources combines an efficient light distribution without compromising the experience of the beautiful light in the lamps originally designed by Poul Henningsen.”

It’s also got another trick. As you may have painfully learned when changing a bulb, light sources can get very hot. CooLED reduces its heat waste using tiny, tilted cooling fins at the base of the LED that allow for a continuous flow of air. The air coming naturally pushes the heat generated up through the fins in a cyclical manner, creating a chimney effect and a light source that can cool itself – extending lifetime and reducing the cost of energy.

Fotonik is currently testing the light sources and different types of lenses mounted in the various PH lamps. While they anticipate that the CooLED will be up to 20-30% more expensive than competitors, it might end up using 40% less electricity.

Into The Trenches for the Key of Life
The University of Southern Denmark (SDU) is going down – way, way down. More precisely, 11 kilometers below the ocean surface in deep sea explorations that are the first of their kind. Professor Ronnie N. Glud of the Biological Institute and the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution (NordCEE) has been granted 24 million kroner for three expeditions over a five-year period to shed some light on what is happening in the dark depths of the ocean.

At this depth the ocean floor is called the “abyssal plane”, a pitch-black and seemingly empty abyss. But that’s far from true – Glud and his team will be using robots to explore life at these depths and investigate the abyssal plane’s biological system.

Few explorations at this depth have been conducted before, and SDU’s will be the first of its kind seeking to retrieve samples and investigate the site “as-is”. Many precautions and preliminary tests have already been performed to ensure the deep sea exploration is a success.

“When we operate at these extreme depths, we cannot just take up a sample and investigate it, due to changes in hydrostatic pressure,” says Glud.

The exploration environment will be at around 1,000 atmospheres of pressure, so the reduced pressure as the sample rises to the surface can affect the thermodynamics, chemical equilibriums, and biology of organisms adapted to deep-sea pressure.

“During recovery, the pressure release will disintegrate the cells. We simply destroy the cells. That means what we study in the laboratory are just the few survivors – and they may not be the important players down at the sea bed,” says Glud.

Glud and his team will spend the first year of the grant on developing robotic instruments to perform three main functions in the extreme depths: measuring microbial activity, collecting samples, and preparing samples so that they remain as they were in their environment.

“We inject various substances in the sediment to ensure the cells remain intact during recovery. This means that when we get the cells up, we can study intact cells and know it is the same as down in the deep trench.”

The ocean floor is full of organic materials that settle there – dead fish or sunken algae and anything else that dies and sinks to the bottom. These things either become buried in the sediment to later become oil or gas, or are eaten, digested, and mineralized by bacteria.

“The efficiency by which organic carbon is either buried or degraded by the bacteria is actually the key process that determines the chemistry of the oceans, including the oxygen concentrations. This process regulates oxygen availability on the planet and the conditions for life. That’s why we are so interested in understanding the processes occurring in the seabed. We don’t know anything about the microorganisms down there and how important they are for the carbon and nitrogen cycling in the oceans.”

The five-year plan will begin in January 2016, with the first exploration expected to begin in late 2016. The three trenches to be visited are the Atacama Trench, the Kermadec Trench, and the Japan Trench, with depths of 8km, 10km, and 10.5km, respectively. The Murmur is certain that James Cameron is very jealous. M


By Nereya Otieno

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