Junior Meryl Davis noticed how useless the lamp-posts on campus are while walking one night during her sophomore year. She found it hard to see where she was walking even though the trees above her were well lit. After considering how lamp posts in her own hometown wasted light, she decided to look for a solution.
Davis and junior Riley Grossman addressed the problem during their Make a Difference, or MAD, project for ENVS 101: Intro to Environmental Studies.
They determined that the lamp posts on campus send light in every direction, causing light pollution and making it difficult to see at night. Since the bulbs have nothing covering them, there is nothing to block the lamps from illuminating the sky.
“Essentially what we found is that the lightbulbs that are being used are all LED’s, which is great, except the way the covers on them are designed, it allows light to escape through a whole sphere,” Davis said. “It’s called light trespass, where we’re allowing light to go everywhere instead of one direct area.”
The solution, Davis explains, is to stop light from escaping out of the top of lamp posts by capping the light bulbs inside.
“The point is not to look at the trees at night,” Davis said. “If there was a cap placed on top, it would not only angle the light down, minimizing light pollution, it would also make them more effective.”
According to Grossman, a major part of effective lighting is how safe the lamp posts make the campus when it is dark outside. Wasted light makes walking at night less safe.
“We wanted to make the campus a little safer by making the actual walkways brighter with the lamp design,” Grossman said. “You would have more light directed downwards to the ground.”
Grossman also stressed that light pollution negatively impacts the environment in ways that might go unnoticed.
“I don’t think people realize when they think about pollution or things that aren’t environmentally friendly that there’s also light pollution,” Grossman said. “Really, light pollution affects not only the ecosystem around us, but also our own biological clocks. Light pollution messes up a lot of migration patterns, especially with birds and insects.”
The MAD project not only proposed a way to make Knox more environmentally sustainable, but also make sure that the proposal is cost-effective.
Director of Facilities, Scott Maust, explained that the LED lights are not as easy to cover as traditional light bulbs.
“I’ve done a lot of research with the current fixtures that we have and I haven’t found any covers that would fit,” Maust said. “There is one style that does part of the top. It would stop a little bit of the light escaping but most of it would still get out.”
Maust also explained that covering the lights would be expensive. The current LED lights would require covers that make it necessary to also replace the plastic globes that surround them. Maust estimates that this would cost around $75 to $100 for over 300 light fixtures.
“It’s pretty expensive,” Maust said. “Right now there’s a fight over budget dollars and it’s just not a priority.”
However, Maust also believes the concern for safety will likely change the lamp posts’ priority.
“I’m constantly getting requests from the Student Senate safety committee to put more lights in darker areas,” Maust said. “And I believe that since this is starting to be a concern that when we start adding more poles we will look at getting some kind of dome for the lights that would help.”
Grossman emphasized that regardless of the project to fix light pollution’s cost-effectiveness, there are many benefits that are difficult to put a price on.
“A lot of the results you’d see, you can’t really see in an economic way,” Grossman said. “Safety on campus and decrease in light pollution, these are things that don’t fit into the economic sense of getting back.”