Some may remember the oil embargoes of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the resulting impact on the U.S. economy. Not surprisingly, the embargoes turned people’s attention to energy use, leading to discussions and studies examining the amount of energy that goes into lighting. Reports indicated a need for an objective, national research and education center devoted to lighting. In 1987, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), then under the direction of Irvin L. (Jack) White, Ph.D., led the charge by posting a request for proposals to fund such a center with $3.5 million over five years.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Russ Leslie responded with a proposal that, in addition to the mandatory criteria of education and energy efficiency research, included aggressive human factors and technology transfer components.
Leslie and his team were granted the proposal and received NYSERDA funding in 1988, establishing the Lighting Research Center (LRC). In addition, Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, through the efforts of Andrew Vesey, then vice president at the upstate New York electric power and natural gas distributor now owned by National Grid, provided supplementary core support to develop state-of-the-art laboratories at the LRC.
The foundation was set for what would become the world’s leading university-based center devoted to lighting research and education.
“For two decades, the Lighting Research Center has transformed science into real-world applications, while always remaining true to its mission—advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment,” said LRC Director Mark Rea, Ph.D., who has served in that position since the center’s inception. “We have built an international reputation as a reliable source for objective information about lighting technologies, applications, and products.”
One program that helped earn that reputation, according to Rea, is the LRC’s award-winning National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP) launched in 1990. Often referred to as the “Consumer Reports” of lighting, NLPIP provides objective testing and evaluation of energy-efficient lighting products and disseminates testing results among consumers and lighting decision makers throughout North America. NLPIP is credited as a major force in upgrading the quality, reliability, and energy-efficiency of lighting products, says Rea.
NLPIP is one of more than a dozen LRC research programs, including Capturing the Daylight Dividend, DesignWorks, Light and Health, Solid-State Lighting, Lighting Technology Greenhouse, and Transportation Lighting. Each research program has its own scope and leader, yet according to Rea, all share a commitment to influence lighting practice through multidisciplinary research, demonstrations, and education; and encourage a view of lighting wherein economic gains are balanced with environmental sustainability.
Only through collaboration with its Partners, says Rea, could the LRC successfully advance such ambitious social and environmental research goals. Through its Partners Program, the LRC coordinates the efforts of public and private organizations to develop customized research and education programs that meet Partner needs, while advancing lighting research, education, and technology.
Lighting truly cuts across disciplines, says LRC Associate Director Russ Leslie, and that’s reflected in the design of the LRC’s education curriculums, including one- and two-year master’s and Ph.D. programs, which Leslie describes as models for multidisciplinary learning.
“In addition to physics, architecture, biology, and design, LRC students are immediately immersed in hands-on, cross-disciplinary research, unlike any other lighting education program,” said Leslie, who largely attributes the LRC graduates’ 100 percent job placement rate to program design.
The LRC is unique, said Rea, because it sticks to its core competencies—measuring light and electricity, investing in people, and reconfiguring itself to continue to meet society’s changing needs—and, as a result, it is celebrating 20 years of success in research and education.
When asked what the future holds for the LRC and the lighting industry, Rea says that the LRC will continue to demonstrate the great social benefit of lighting research and, perhaps one day, lighting will be widely recognized as a field of study, like biology, physics, or neurosciences.
To learn about specific LRC programs and research projects, visit www.lrc.rpi.edu.
Current LRC Partners include AES Latin America; California Energy Commission; Con Edison; GE Lighting; Hunter Fan; New York State Energy Research & Development Authority; OSRAM SYLVANIA, Inc.; Philips Lighting; Philips Professional Luminaires North America; United States Environmental Protection Agency; Watt Stopper/Legrand; and Xcel Energy.