Did You Ever Wonder: Michael Siminovitch

Lighting accounts for almost a fourth of the nation's electrical energy consumption, yet it's one of the simplest ways to save.

Getting people to use more efficient lighting has been a crusade for Michael Siminovitch, who leads the project to develop fixtures and applications within the lighting group of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. His team has brought numerous technologies to market, lighting spaces as small as offices and as big as auditoriums.

Siminovitch has learned that it's not enough just to invent a better lamp. "You have to make people happy. It's the most important thing in persuading them to change."

An undergraduate design-engineering student, Siminovitch got intrigued by lighting during graduate work in architecture at the University of Illinois. "The more I learned about light, the more I realized what a difference it could make in cost and livability."


Berkeley Lab's energy-efficient torchieres give off "cool" light.


With a Ph.D. in architecture and human factors from the University of Michigan, he found a home in the lighting research program at Berkeley Lab. "I like playing with the apparatus," Siminovitch admits, and his lighting lab is chock full of it, with names like the Spectro-Radiometer, the Gonio-Photometer, and the Integrating Sphere.

Technical developments from his team include torchieres and other fixtures that use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), better task lighting for the US Postal Service, high performance kitchen lights, and improved lighting for beverage machines. Equally important is the human response built into the designs: "You have to balance optical efficiency with the human factor."

For example, a handsome torchiere that uses a CFL instead of a hot halogen lamp puts out the same amount of light with a quarter the power -- and it's cool enough to touch, dramatically reducing fire danger. An even more advanced table lamp recently debuted.

Such inventions come from a small group of "really bright engineers," including students; Siminovitch credits Berkeley Lab's engineering-education outreach programs for attracting excellent students. "We throw real problems at them, and they share the credit. Projects that make a difference give them real satisfaction."

Siminovitch's work is mirrored in his personal life. For years he has dressed completely in black, at first because "I didn't want to be a photometric error" in brightness measurements, and later because "it makes buying clothes a lot easier." Which saves time for other projects: he and his wife are remodeling their new home for maximum energy efficiency, with passive solar heating, superinsulation -- and CFL torchieres in every room.

Did You Ever Wonder Web Site
Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory