pt01.jpg (8534 bytes)An idea that started with Cinderella, has become a valuable and beneficial tool for today’s laboratory personnel. And just like the Disney diva once did, this product sits quietly on the cusp of widespread popularity. This summer, at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry meeting in San Francisco, thousands of laboratorians got their first look at a line of lighting designed specifically for them.

Ott-Lites are the brainchild of Dr. John Nash Ott, developer of the first natural sunlight replicating bulbs. The bulbs were developed to help capture on film one of the most magical of Disney moments, the pumpkin-to-coach metamorphosis in the cartoon movie, Cinderella. Ott, who died last year at age 90, published the book Health and Light in the mid-1960s, and wrote numerous articles on the health effects of “photo-therapy” and sunlight. It was Ott’s belief that artificial light, produced by conventional light bulbs and tubes, does not produce a healthy balance of wavelengths that living things, including humans, require.

In the 1930s, Ott was a well-known photographer working for seed and plant companies, according to Elliot Jones, director of research for Tampa, Florida-based Ott-Lite, who worked closely with Ott. He demonstrated that greenhouses could produce better tomatoes through rapidly sequencing plant development. To do this, Ott set up elaborate lab environments, originally in his cellar, where he filmed the growth, Jones said. As a consequence, Ott began a series of experiments with lighting.

“He became aware early on that every one of the parts of the visible spectrum of light, the range of electromagnetic radiation between about 440 and 750 nanometers, had a discreet effect on the plants,” Jones said. Ott found that if he gave them only one part of the visible spectrum, they might not blossom at all, or if he give them another set of the visible spectrum they would blossom but never reach sexual maturity or die very early. This sparked Ott’s life-long series of experiments with light. He experimented with not only producing light that incorporated all of the visible spectrum, but producing it in a balance that replicated natural sunlight as closely as possible.

“What Dr. Ott did was develop tubes that replicate natural sunlight and that replication has a number of effects,” Jones said. “In terms of lab lights, they enhance the ability of the eye to see color very vividly while at the same time allowing for tremendous visual acuity.”

Jones, who has worked with Ott-Lite since its inception more than 10 years ago, said there are important differences between this light and other lab lights. “The trick in good vision, particularly for the purposes of labs where color and acuity is critical, is having both,” Jones said. “And that’s what these lights do.” By blending rare earth phosphors that Ott developed into the mix, the lamps can provide high color rendering and simultaneous visual acuity. The lamps also help lab techs reduce and avoid a common workplace injury – computer vision syndrome (CVS), a complex of eyestrain, headaches and fatigue that can lead to illness and absenteeism. CVS results from distorted ambient lighting and glare. Ott-Lites are designed to reduce glare and produce almost no heat, making them useful in labs where techs can work long hours under torturously close lighting. Their small footprint helps preserve precious lab bench space, and clamp-on models are available.

The technology behind the lamps involved 50 years of research, including the blending of special phosphors and even an art component, according to Jones. The most recent VisionSaver series took two years of experimentation to produce, even with the technical understanding necessary to produce the phosphor blend. “That’s what distinguishes it from lighting ordinarily found in labs,” Jones said. “Most lab lighting is ordinary office lighting, cool white fluorescent tubes, which produce terribly distorted lighting. If lab technicians want high-color rendering, they sometimes resort to halogen lights or some very bright, hot light source that gives you a lot of color rendering but

reduces contrast and visual acuity.” With the Ott-Lites, labs have a high-color rendering light that allows color differentiation with good visual acuity. As a natural consequence of these, Jones said, staff can minimize errors. The products address a common lab lighting problem. If a light is extremely bright and high in what Jones calls, “photopic lumens,” it creates a corollary effect of reduced contrast so that the eye does not see details clearly.

Ott-Lites have been on the market since the late 1980’s, but a recently developed phosphor blend, VisionSavers, are targeted at clinical labs. The VisionSaver line made its medical industry debut in July at the AACC conference, where Bridget Satinover, Ott-Lite marketing coordinator spoke with laboratorians. “People said these would be really useful in hematology and microbiology,” Satinover said. Susan Moi, a senior research scientist at Biosite Diagnostics Inc., in San Diego, agrees. She learned about the lamps at AACC, and now the five scientists in her Southern California lab each have one.

Moi’s lab techs work with latex particles, ranging in size from 40 to 500 nanometers. Procedures on these include dye loading into latex particles, then surface chemistry and protein chemistry. Lab staff use Ott-Lites’ 18-watt clamp-on table lamps, which, according to Moi, made an immediate difference in the delicate work done. “In order for me to do chemistry on latex particles it has to be colloidal stable, and the only way to see it is visual. There is no test to tell if these are colloidal stable,” Moi said. “Observation for us is very important. If something is going on with my reaction, my latex will aggregate, separate or clump, and the light is very important to see this. Overall, our work is making observations. If you cannot see what’s going on, then you are not going to make very good observations.”

Personnel in Moi’s facility also work with light-sensitive compounds, so most of the time the lab lighting is dim or slightly green. “When we are not working with that particular compound, we have the regular light on. But if someone else is working with light sensitive material the whole lab suffers,” Moi said. With the Ott clamp on lamp, light can be focused on individual benches allowing different techs to work with different lighting.

In the past, Moi who said she has never seen anything like the Ott-Lites, used regular clamp-on lamps. With the Ott-Lites, she and her staff immediately saw detail with more clarity. “Now if I am drawing five microliters in a 25 microliter syringe, the lines on the syringe are much clearer,” said Moi, who has worked in a lab environment for 13 years. “If you work with small detail, it’s a good light. It does not matter what type of lab work you do, if someone can see the detail better it can have an effect on productivity and also on the well-being of the lab tech.”

Initially, Moi had no idea what the lamps might cost, but once she used them and saw what they do for the lab she decided they were well worth the price. “Our lights are priced more like office products than laboratory products,” Jones said. The products range from $69 to $199 depending on the fixture.

He noted that the lamps minimize glare and provide good color matching for anyone using visual display terminals or computers. “If you are working, for example, with frozen sections you need to prepare slides from those frozen sections and be able to handle them effectively, to see them well. Our lights are perfect for that kind of work,” Jones said. In addition, some lamps come with optical-grade magnifiers, making them useful for lab staffs, who often find themselves reading small inserts and fine print. “For people working in all types of clinical labs, one of the most important accessories they have is their eyes,” Jones said. “They are working in a visually dependent world.”

For additional information, Select No. 260 on the reader service card or contact Ott-Lite Technology at 800-842-8848 or e-mail them at