More to light than you can see

The Intelligent Lighting Laboratory at Monash University Malaysia is at the forefront of developing human-centric lighting systems that enhance user experience and well-being. Research at the intelligent lighting lab is multifaceted and cuts across different disciplines such as Engineering, Information Technology, Science, Medicine and Psychology. Students of the Bachelor of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering (ECSE) program have the option of selecting a research-led elective in the field of Solid State Lighting which taps on the infrastructure at this lab.

Dr Vineetha Kalavally, Director of the lab, said “Lighting has evolved from bulbs serving the basic purpose of providing light to intelligent systems that can do far more.”

One active area of research that is being supported by the lab is on the non-visual effects of light. Associate Professor Tan Chee Pin, Discipline Head (Mechatronics), School of Engineering, Monash University Malaysia explained: “Light was traditionally used to perceive brightness and color of objects which are closely related to the human vision. However, now it has been found that specific parts of the light spectrum affect the human body in terms of our sleep-wake cycle in an unrelated manner.”

“It has been known for very long that light is an important stimuli to our circadian rhythm which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. But nowadays, the average person spends far more time indoor, under artificial lights than outdoor. Hence there is a need to design better lighting systems based on a sound understanding of the impact of light on human well-being. Research employing psychophysical tests and EEGs is a good start to learning how our brain responds to different types of light”, added Dr Vineetha.

This work is done in collaboration with the Neurobusiness Lab and the Department of Psychology at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. “The questions being asked are, if there is the potential for lights to alter alertness and cognition in human beings, to correct the circadian disruption of night-shift workers and frequent travellers, to prevent  ICU patients from becoming delirious, to mention just a few”, Assoc Prof Tan remarked.

Another application of LED lights that is gaining popularity is the usage of lights for communication. ‘LiFi’ is the new buzzword in optical wireless communication and research has shown that it can definitely complement and may even replace WiFi in the future. The intelligent lighting lab focuses on combining illumination and communication quality of LiFi.

“LEDs lend themselves easily to electronic switching and control as opposed to traditional lights, and because of that, you can put data on your lights. Lights could thus serve a dual purpose - communication,” said Dr Vineetha.

Several students at Bachelors, Masters and PhD level of the ECSE program are currently involved in the research and development of Intelligent Lighting Systems.

A wearable device that measures a person’s circadian lux exposure which is the light power that affects the circadian rhythm, is currently being developed by students in the final year of ECSE. This is an effort in collaboration with the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences at Monash University Australia.

This device can be potentially worn by several groups of people such as shift workers, people under special medication, frequent travellers, young adults, elderly, patients in hospitals etc.  In order to measure their typical exposures with the aim of mapping it to their psychological and physiological status. The results are expected to provide valuable insights to aid not just lighting design, but also formulation of standards and governmental policies and consumer behavior.

“We are going to measure the spectrum of the light with the device we have designed. Light is the most important synchroniser for the circadian clock that we have in our brain. So what we are going to measure is how much circadian lux the subject is exposed to over a period of time, and back up this data periodically on a cloud for researchers to access,” said Hassan Mohamed, an ECSE undergraduate currently working on the development of the device.

Another upcoming area of research is horticultural lighting, where lights are designed to enhance the growth of plants, and is performed in collaboration with the School of Science. “This research focuses on how LED lights with specially designed spectra could be used to enhance bioactivities in plants thus leading to better pharmacological benefits” explained Assoc Prof Tan.

For more information on the research and training facilities at the Intelligent Lighting Laboratory, School of Engineering, please visit https://www.monash.edu.my/engineering/research/infrastructure/intelligent-lighting-laboratory