Tackling Grand Challenges: A Project on Light Analysis for a Brighter Future

By Lincoln Schafer, Physics, and Irene Schimmel, Physics

Our Advancing Community-Engaged (ACE) Student Scholars project was to engage community members in the analysis of excessive night lighting, which can affect people through glare, light trespass and possible health effects. Many light fixture owners are uneducated about the harmful impact artificial lighting can have both on the individual and the community. We are two physics students, Lincoln Schafer and Irene Schimmel who, under the guidance of Dr. Robert Stencel decided to dedicate our winter break to illustrating some of the unforeseen impacts of choosing one light bulb over another and allow people to make educated decisions about the lights they surround themselves with. We focused on finding a way to educate both students on campus and the facilities department, who are in charge of choosing the lights installed on campus.

There are many simple ways to reduce your individual impact on light pollution and we wanted to show the community how their small actions can have a large impact on the greater problem of excessive light levels. We accomplished this in several ways:

(1) by constructing a demonstration box

(2) conducting a survey of all the lighting on campus and

(3) connecting with community partners.

The lighting demonstration box contains a variety of different types of light bulbs: LED, CFL and Halogen. We highlighted the color differences among LEDs rated as lower and higher ‘color temperature’, and the impact each type of light has on the retina and the bluer light contribution to skyglow. In addition to the impact on the night sky, major health issues have been linked to overexposure to high energy artificial lights, including altered levels of melatonin hormones in the body, which can have long lasting implications on mental and physical processes. This is the same reason many screen apps are used to dim harsh blue light after dark. So far, the demonstration has successfully been given to 3 groups of people, and we learned that most people were unaware of differences among these light sources. We’ve planned several other opportunities to spread knowledge on light pollution. Our community partner, the leadership of the Colorado section of the International Dark Sky Association (www.darksky.org) provided useful comments and is encouraging us to develop newer models of the lighting demonstration kit for future use.

For much of December 2018 winter break, we spent our nights walking through campus, surveying the diverse lighting fixtures. After completing the survey and compiling the collected data we reached out to DU Facilities staff to discuss the findings and make recommendations about which lights and areas of campus were the least environmentally friendly in terms of glare and uplighting. Facilities has agreed to evaluate lights that are of little to no cost to alter (such as lights only needing to be repositioned) and to continue to work with us to find the ways to tackle some of the larger changes that need to occur to make University of Denver a more sustainable campus.

We both learned valuable lessons, including: research is both very rewarding and very demanding, with many headaches and bumps along the way to success. We also learned that it is wise to dress more warmly when wandering around campus on December nights.

**Editor’s note: ACE Student Scholars Grants are part of the DU Grand Challenges initiative programming, made possible by a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations


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