(DE)Light Liquid Light

This is a prototype light source being developed by Cristina Ferraz in spain

Light from chemical reactions

There is a luminescent technology, though, that has a great potential of radically changing this archetype: chemoluminescence. Chemoluminescence is the emission of light as the result of a chemical reaction. In said chemical reaction, two compounds, or reactants, break down when they get in contact with each other, and the resulting molecules rearrange to form different compounds, or products. When that happens, energy is released in the form of light. This extra energy happens mostly because the products have less energy stored in their bonds than the reactants. Unlike any other luminescence technologies, it does not require the presence of an external light source to produce light, and its brightness is significantly higher as standard, and can be regulated by accelerating the chemical reaction – commonly heating up the mixture heightens the light output.


Almost all of us have experienced this phenomenon. Who has not broken one of those glowsticks and realized, amazed, the bright light arising from it? This happens because the plastic tube filled with one of the reactants (a hydrogen peroxide solution) and a fragile crystal flask that contains, in turn, the other reactant (a fluorescent dye and a phenyl oxalate ester). When the stick is bent, the crystal flask breaks, allowing the two reactants to mix and generate the luminescent reaction. Chemoluminescence has great prominence too in criminology techniques; if there is blood, the Luminol will react in an analog way and generate light, speaking out the truth. The lucky ones who have had the chance to see the beautiful sight of dancing fireflies at night have witnessed the biological version of chemoluminescence, bioluminescence.


As illustrated by those examples, chemoluminescence takes the shape of a liquid, since both reactants are often in that state. When observing the raw reaction at a laboratory and not inside a firefly or a glowstick, what the observer will appreciate is, plain and simple, liquid light. I did explore, in my graduate project (De)light* at the Royal College of Art, the huge potential of liquid light and its meaning – if you’re interested, you can find more details, the research thesis and multimedia material at www.cristinaferraz.es. What I researched and explicated with my project is that liquid light is a beautiful, revolutionary, change of the light archetype. It represents a step towards what would become a significant change in the concept of domestic lighting. And what I would like to share with you here is a brief summary of my project and its intentions.

Of course, there are currently technological impediments to the use of chemoluminescence as a professional light source. As in any other chemical reaction, it finishes when the reactants are used up. In its current state, the chemical compounds are not totally safe for common use. And the emanating light is often dull and unnatural. The question here though is whether all those technical limitations are there because chemoluminescence has only been developed to suit non-common uses. If the potential value of this technology strikes the R&D departments of companies, development efforts will be aimed at providing this light source, and researching into creating compounds that answer those three limitations from a user point of view. Attention needs to be drawn not into improving existent archetypes, but radically change them.

To read the full proyect, go to: Philips Community Lighting

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