Spectroscopy of artificial lighting on Vassar campus



This project aimed to look at light pollution and the effectiveness of artificial lighting across Vassar campus, as well as the differences in the lighting of various areas. There is a particular focus on the presence or absence of blue light (~450-495nm), as blue light is associated with a reduction in the production of melatonin. The data was taken in various buildings using a spectrometer in association with the Logger Pro software.



Above, we can see a graphical representation of the data collected from 6 different areas. The full data is available at:



We can see that the data falls within two general patterns. While the data lines for Raymond MPR and the Shiva work lights are somewhat harder to see, they follow the same trend as the curves for the Raymond room. In fact, all three of these seem to follow the same pattern as the Main College Center lights, which is simply much more pronounced: we see peaks at around 435, 550 and 610 nanometers, corresponding to blue, green and orange respectively. I expected that most of the lighting would be fluorescent lighting, and as such this falls within expectations as this is the typical emission spectrum of a three band lamp. The other peaks in the spectrum of the Main College Center lighting could be due to light pollution from other sources or the presence of foreign agents. We also see that, while the levels of intensity are very similar for the Main College Center spectrum, blue light has lower intensity in the three other spectra.

The other pattern we observe is that of Deece and Villard room lighting. Here, we see a mostly constant curve with two slight peaks at 450 and 610, in the blue and orange. This is typically the spectrum of incandescent lighting. We also see that the Villard room’s lights have higher intensity and seem to contain slightly more blue light. While it was within my expectations to find some incandescent lighting on campus, I did not expect the Deece to use it as incandescent lighting is less efficient and the Deece is one of the main, most populated areas.


Science learned and context:

While I did not use any highly advanced technology during this project, it let me familiarize myself with the use of spectrometers and the Logger Pro software. I did not expect that such a small and unassuming piece of affordable equipment could take data with so much precision, taking readings with intervals of 0.6 nanometers.

I think my project fits in with current technology in two ways. First, technology is making increased use of various mediums of light, visible or slightly outside vision range. Secondly, as screens and artificial lighting have become so prevalent, a number of people have started looking into the different effects of different types of lighting on the human body and brain. The fact that melatonin production is inhibited by blue light is now fairly well known, and there are many very popular apps or programs to reduce the emission of blue light on phones and computers at night in order to try and preserve the circadian sleep cycle. There are also innovations that are being made, such as an electronic headband called the iBand+ that supposedly uses a combination of light signals and vibrations to help the wearer sleep and induce lucid dreaming. While there seems to be limited evidence to support that claim, we see that technology has started focusing on this aspect of light more


Conclusions and looking back:

As said previously, blue light is less conducive to sleeping, and so could be seen as better for studying. Light with higher intensity may also be more helpful when working, but less comfortable when relaxing. As such, in terms of lighting, the Main College Center seems like a good place to work and the Deece seems like a good place to relax.

If I had to do the project again, I would try to control more accurately for light intensity. Indeed, while the spectrum will not change much regardless of where you point the spectrometer, it is a precise measuring tool and being a few degrees off can make a significant change in the perceived intensity of the lighting. I also failed to take into account the number of lights in the room, and in one case the proximity (the Shiva data was taken while sitting on top of the risers, which is atypical of where students would be when the lights are on).

If I had another 6 weeks, I would probably try to measure outside lighting as well. I am curious as to the path lighting, and would also have liked to take measurements from natural lighting in order to see how bright certain areas were and how much artificial lighting influences the brightness in comparison with moonlight.

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