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Science and Technology

Cincinnati Children's is licensing its sunlight technology to a NASA spin-off

Ann Thompson
The sun, like you see rising in Haleakala, Hawaii, helps get us on the right circadian rhythm. If we spend too much time inside it can lead to sleep problems, overeating and depression.

Violet light (different from ultraviolet light) has developmental and energy benefits, according to researchers.

Violet light, different from ultra-violet light, appears to have so many health benefits the company that installed it at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is now commercializing the technology.

BIOS Lighting, a NASA spin-off, helped fund the Children’s research and now is marketing a desk light and architecture lighting with the same technology that focuses on violet light.

Richard Lang, Ph.d., director of the visual systems group at Cincinnati Children’s, has been studying the role natural sunlight plays for over a decade. WVXU first reported on Lang’s research in 2020.

In a paper he published in the journal Cell Reports, Lang details how reliance on the sun for thousands of years has developed genes that are light-sensing. They are called opsins and control a variety of functions, including the sleep-wake cycle, stimulating light pathways in the skin and retina.

His research sparked the idea to install violet light in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit in 2021, as WVXU reported.

BIOS’ Vice President of Biological Research and Technology Robert Soler says being inside too much can throw off our circadian clock. Trouble sleeping, overeating and depression are just some of downsides to not getting enough sunlight. He says a light with a special violet hue is the next best thing.

“We’re inside so much and we’re really not getting the synchronization that we need from outside and there’s a lot of benefits to the outside sunlight and the outside daylight,” he says.

BIOS’ desk light is expensive, but Soler says it will eventually be a third of the price. His company is also meeting with architects to install the special lighting in buildings.

Soler is an expert in the field. He got the first LED on the International Space Station (ISS) and was in charge of the circadian lighting system for the ISS.