Computer-Controlled LEDs Used to Synchronize Flashing of Live Fireflies

Artists in Thailand tricked fireflies into flashing in synchronization with LED lights.

June 28, 2017 5:00 am

LED lights can apparently be used to hack a firefly.

Artists created a biological light show in Thailand by using tiny light bulbs to synchronize the flashing of live fireflies.

Don’t worry, no insects were harmed during this artistic experiment. The lightning bugs naturally synchronize on their own.

According to Aeon, scientists discovered in 1992 that fireflies have internal clocks that tell them when to flash. They originally suspected the lightning bugs followed a leader’s pace, but it’s a far more organic process than that. When a firefly is close to another when they flash, their internal clock is nudged forward slightly. This effect compounds among groups of fireflies so that eventually, their blinking naturally synchronizes in a wave-like fashion.

Swiss artists Robin Meier and André Gwerder played used this biological mechanism in a Thai mangrove forest. They used blinking LED lights that resemble the flashing fireflies to trick them into synching up to a stunning effect.

For those interested in conducting a similar art experiment, game developer Nicky Case created a digital version of the organic light show that can be customized and manipulated (click here to try it).

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