Fireflies give scientists a bright idea

You’ve probably seen them already: Flashes of light dotting your backyard as the sun dips below the horizon.

Fireflies are an almost ubiquitous part of Pennsylvania summers, so much so that they were named the official state insect in 1974.

Also called a lightning bug, these itty-bitty beetles create their telltale light through a process called bioluminescence.

And now Syracuse University scientists are working on a way to take that telltale glow and use it to replace LED lights.

According to an article on the university’s Web site, the scientists are using nanoscience — the study of the performance of ultra-small structures, materials, and devices — to manipulate the chemical substance luciferin and an enzyme called luciferase to mimic the fireflies’ glow. So far, the scientists have been able to create green, orange and red light, as well as infrared light.

If the brains behind the process, called Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET), can figure out how to sustain the light for longer periods of time, holiday lights and LEDs may no longer need battery packs or power cords.

In the meantime, we’ll have to be content with the real thing, dancing across the skies on a midsummer night.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.