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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Canadian Professor Aims to 'Light Up the World' - 2004-10-31

Broadcast: November 1, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

A light emitting diode, or L.E.D., is a device that shines when electricity passes through it. But it works differently than traditional kinds of light bulbs. Light emitting diodes use less energy and last much longer than bulbs with a filament inside. L.E.D.'s are also cooler to the touch, and shine a lot brighter than they used to.

Red L.E.D.'s have long been used as signal lights on electronic equipment. But now light emitting diodes also come in blue and other colors. Colored L.E.D.'s are used to show images on everything from wireless phones to huge video signs. And white L.E.D.'s are being used increasingly to replace traditional lighting systems.

But all these require electricity. In poor countries, people often burn fuel to produce light. But the smoke can make people sick. So an electrical engineering professor from Canada started a project to produce L.E.D. lighting systems for the developing world.

These lights are powered by batteries that can be recharged with energy from the sun. The batteries can also be charged through other ways, such as wind power, water power or pedal power. Someone sits and pedals a wheel connected to a generator.

Professor David Irvine-Halliday tells the story of how he got the idea. In nineteen ninety-seven, while climbing in the Annapurna mountains in Nepal, he saw a small school. All the children were outside. He looked though a window and saw that inside the school was dark. The school had a sign that read: “We have no teachers. If you want to stay and teach for a few days, we would be very pleased.”

Professor Irvine-Halliday says that experience had a big effect on him. Back at the University of Calgary, he was on the Internet one day. He saw a company in Japan selling bright white L.E.D.'s. So he built a light with some. This is how he began the Light Up the World Foundation.

This non-profit group has provided lights to several thousand homes in Asia and Latin America. Presently the foundation does not sell its products to individuals. But it does sell to non-governmental organizations and humanitarian groups.

Professor Irvine-Halliday says “we have a market that is very large.” He notes that about two thousand million people around the world live without electricity.

The Web site for the foundation is

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Gary Garriott. This is Gwen Outen.