The architectural lighting field today represents a complex terrain incorporating thousands of technologies for innumerable applications, and we all know how quickly the industry horizon can change. For assistance in navigating such a vast professional landscape, lighting designers can turn to the Lighting Research Center (LRC), a major nonprofit research and education center based in Troy, NY. The organization provides a wealth of information and support regarding new product developments plus insights into crucial health, energy, environmental, and regulatory issues. "We pride ourselves on being the hub of lighting information for the industry as an independent, impartial facility," says Judith Block, LRC editor and marketing manager.
With initial core funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the center was established in 1988. Affiliated with the School of Architecture at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and located on its campus, the LRC functions as an objective third party in its association with utilities, government agencies, and manufacturers. The center supports a testing and research laboratory, offers a special Masters in Lighting Science degree under the auspices of RPI, presents a range of industry seminars, and publishes frequent reports, newsletters, and books on all aspects of architectural lighting.
One of the LRC's most widely acclaimed projects is a program documenting case studies in lighting strategies. Called DELTA (Demonstration and Evaluation of Lighting Technologies and Applications), the program is overseen by program director Naomi Miller. DELTA seeks to educate engineers, architects, designers, and other specifiers about lighting techniques from design, comfort level, energy efficiency, and economic standpoints. As the result of each DELTA study, the LRC publishes a 12-page booklet which provides extensive information including the scope of the project, facility layout, functions of the space, and detailed specifications on the particular project's lighting systems. The latest study focuses on office lighting at a Prudential Healthcare facility in Albany, NY. DELTA previously has analyzed retail environments, offices, manufacturing facilities, and supermarkets. Upcoming DELTA studies will examine schools, lobbies, and health-care facilities.
For each case study, Miller coordinates a team composed of six staff researchers and graduate students to assess the lighting systems at a particular site and provide a standardized method of presenting data to the lighting community. Each project begins with on-site visits and reviews of design documentation led by Dr. Peter Boyce, head of human factors at the LRC. The team takes extensive measurements-from horizontal illuminance levels to photometric calculations-which are later detailed within the case study to highlight where lighting designs achieve or fall short of their goals. The LRC team collects data throughout a 24-hour period, which is particularly significant for retail and commercial spaces. Ambient daylight can affect lighting levels, and some lighting systems use control systems to compensate for low or high ambient lighting conditions. Conducting actual measurements over the time the facility is open can focus on control systems that work, and suggest improvements for others. In one recent case study at Prudential Healthcare, for example, a problem with specifying an infrared occupancy sensor for a conference room was examined. A minor modification was needed so that the sensor would not to be "fooled" by activity in the corridor. Once modified, the sensor worked as originally intended by the lighting designer.
The DELTA studies also include extensive surveys conducted by the research team. Questions regarding topics such as lighting comfort levels, glare problems, and flicker perceptions are asked of workers, managers, and, if appropriate, customers. "Through our use of the survey, it's clear that people see where there are problems [with a facility's lighting], but often can see what works, too," Boyce says. The DELTA surveys are specific, and the questions are well defined. By examining the survey, facility layout, and types of lighting used, the researchers can establish a correlation between the lighting design and survey responses. "Many studies can predict monetary savings, but the DELTA project seeks to measure those savings, and through interviews and surveys highlight projects that achieve effective and pleasing lighting within accepted energy-saving guidelines."
Other highlights of LRC's recent work are testing products, researching fatigue problems of night shift workers, and providing accurate information for effective energy-efficient lighting solutions.
The 14,000-sq.-ft. (1,260-sq.-m) Troy facility is outfitted specifically for researching and teaching lighting. Among the spacious and well-equipped labs, a complete photometric laboratory includes specialized equipment for testing in all areas of illumination, reflectivity, spectral characteristics, luminous properties, and so on. Specialized devices such as video photometers allow the technical staff to collect (if needed) 250,000 individual calibrated measurements to define and verify the performance of the lighting device being studied.
Other facilities can measure and test lighting systems and components. The LRC's equipment can analyze energy management and control systems, and measure watts used, harmonic distortion levels, and the efficiency of power supplies and ballasts, especially when used in conjunction with electronic dimming systems.
In addition to an extensive library of periodicals and books on all aspects of lighting, the center also houses the Louis B. Marks Memorial Library, an historic collection donated to the LRC by the Illuminating Engineering Society in 1993.
Block affirms the LRC's ongoing interest in analyzing commonly specified lighting products for institutional and commercial environments. Among recent product studies, the LRC has reviewed exit signs, examining power consumption factors and visibility and illuminance characteristics in both standard and smoke-filled conditions. Presently, the LRC is examining issues regarding the usage of newer-style energy-efficient fluorescent lamps with older-style ballasts. Frequently, the ballasts within an existing fixture may not be designed for usage with newer lamps; however, many facility owners will replace the existing lamps with newer styles. The LRC is attempting to gather information on compatibility, power consumption, ballast life expectancy, reliability, and general efficiency of the lighting.
Through funding from a major automobile manufacturer, the LRC is examining automobile painting and inspection processes. The staff is developing specific guidelines regarding the amount and direction of light necessary for paint inspectors to properly examine the painted surfaces for small, almost microscopic defects. The LRC study was able to measure light levels in inspection facilities, and conduct research on how inspectors search for defects. In the demonstration spaces, different lighting schemes were tested, and inspectors provided feedback as to which system was most effective. The proposed improved lighting system is being installed in one facility, so its impact can be measured on a working factory floor. Early results indicate that the new system of area lighting has been effective in allowing a greater number of defects to be spotted by the inspectors. This example illustrates the benefits of having a multidisciplinary approach to examining lighting issues, Block notes. Other recent areas of LRC investigation have included glare, fatigue, and eye strain associated with the use of video display terminals (VDTs) and the effect lighting has on these conditions.
Graduate-level education is a major component of the mission of the LRC. The Master of Science in Lighting program includes "broad-based education in vision, physics of light, mechanics, human factors, and lighting aesthetics," Block says. "We've been very successful, and have 100% job placement for our graduates." The two-year program requires 48 credits of project and course work. Significant research opportunities exist for the graduate students, and many are involved with LRC projects or are pursuing their own design or research on new lighting technologies.
Specialized seminars for lighting professionals also are conducted by the LRC. Several utilities have enlisted the center to provide training in lighting technologies, terminology, and energy programs. The utilities then use these LRC-trained representatives to advise and assist their customers on selecting energy-efficient lighting that is effective and complementary to their environments.
Related to the utility training program is the Swedish Outreach Education project, now in its fourth year. Sponsored by the Swedish National Board for Industrial and Technical Development (NUTEK), lighting specifiers and managers from Scandinavia spend two weeks at the LRC in a concentrated lighting education program. Through seminars, classes, demonstrations, and examination of lighting case studies, the LRC provides an education that is relevant, accurate, and as technologically up-to-date as possible.
Besides its role in hands-on education, the LRC's goal is to widely disseminate its research to interested professionals as well. Among its many publications and specialized newsletters is Lighting Futures, a quarterly newsletter focusing on developments in new and advanced lighting technologies. The publication is funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and both the EPA and the LRC hope the series will encourage manufacturers to rapidly bring new products using advanced technologies to market. In addition to its newsletters, the LRC's books are well-researched and contain useful case studies and layout examples.
The work of the LRC is readily available for lighting designers to use and incorporate into their designs. For nearly a decade, a vast quantity of lighting research has been gathered at the center. Through its work, it is now easier for professionals and students to find information and data for specifying lighting that is effective, comfortable, and energy efficient. For more information on the LRC, visit its website at www.rpir.edu/dept/lrc/LRC.html.