Des Moines school pioneers colour-change lighting

A school in Des Moines, Iowa, is pioneering tunable LED lighting in what’s believed to be a first for America.

At the Ruby Van Meter School the fluorescent lighting has been replaced with a colour-changing LED scheme which is designed to improve well being and help academic performance.

‘We're hoping that with the variable lighting system, we can control it that we can really help to decrease a lot of acting out behaviors,’ Melissa Harper, teacher at Ruby Van Meter, told KCCI News in Iowa.

It’s believed that the Ruby Van Meter – which is a special school for disabled pupils – is the first school in America to use tunable lighting in all its classrooms.

The school follows the Kongsgardmoen School in Norway, which opened this week to its intake of 230 primary school pupils It too is pioneering ground-breaking circadian lighting Lighting researchers and scientists will follow the results of the experiment closely to see if so-called ‘tuneable’ lighting can change schoolchildren’s behaviour and academic performance. It’s one of the first full circadian lighting systems in an educational establishment anywhere in the world.

The school has installed luminaires with adjustable colour temperature, with LED light sources that can be tuned from cool white to warm white light. All classrooms are equipped with the technology, making this the most comprehensive human-centric LED lighting installation to date.

Comments 12

Interesting as this is a project I am currently working on. Far from just producing light, it is essential to bring in what is happening out there, this is where my project becomes interesting. Re-producing the sky itself.

I ask experts to let me know where are capable designers and installers in Europe. Thanks Armando

This may have been the first school in Iowa, but not the first Circadian rhythm color tunable installation. David Raver LC of Modus Engineers in Des Moines Iowa Designed and installed Color tunable lighting system with custom fixtures designed and supplied by Strauss Architectural Systems in Their main office space last year. The Modus Building on top of being a net zero building, it many days creates more power than it uses, while following the Circadian rhythm of the natural day to improve productivity of the engineering staff. This will be as common place as dimming in the near future.

Why the lighting starts from "cool white". Cool white is normally 4000 K. According my opinion it should start from daylight, e.g. 5500 K. 6500 is too blue. There are lots of studies of daylight lighting in schools. Of course dynamic lighting is better.

I was familiar with John Ott's Full Spectrum (and high frequency )lighting applications in the Florida School System in the Sixties and went to meet him in Sarasota a few years later; he had achieved very encouraging results, especially with ADD/HDD pupils, helping many of them blossom by getting off medication and had more interesting things to share. Later on I used tunable hue lighting (three primary colors of dimmable incandescent bulbs) to increase comfort in computer workspaces, and to influence social interaction in restaurants. I will be glad to further discuss the subject but nust now leave the computer; please find me on Linkedin and connect, or write to - phone + Eliahu Gal-Or Mevo Modiin, Israel

This was not the first school to install tunable LED lighting in a school. There is a company in Bellingham Washington that has already installed tunable LED lighting and was an early promoter of the research that showed the advantages for special-ed students. 2020 LED Mark Buehrer, PE, Director, 2020 Engineering 360-671-2020 Mark was an early member of the HCL Society and is known to Stan Walerczyk and John Hwang (CEO of PlanLED).

Having an autistic child I too am interested in the results. From my experience in dealing with educators who interact daily with children on the spectrum they are well versed in how light, sound, temperature and movement affects the children. The children are generally grouped by their abilities, or disabilities, needs and ability to adjust to their surroundings. Knowing how fragile some children are, I would think the educators are versed in the operation to prevent adverse effects. I look forward to a progress report.

A previous conversation regarding these projects was started a few days ago on the LinkedIn Intelligent Lighting group. Rather than repost that information it can be read here:

I would think that the varying of spectrum over the course of the school day would be best left to some sort of programmed cycle, run off of timers, or via some sort of software/app. Certainly there are a lot of variables at play. If the main "plan" is to simply vary color tempurature (CCT), in order to achieve some manipulation of melatonin levels (and thereby affect alertness vs. drowsiness), then perhaps it isn't possible to have a fixed cycle that fits classroom activities on different days. Plus, what is the desired effect in this classroom? Is it to increase alertness? Or is it intended to (on some occasions) be calming? A fairly routine concept with variable-CCT task lighting is to recommend a bright/crisp white ("daylight", in photographic terms) during the morning and afternoon work-times, and then to switch to warm white (lower CCT value, such as incandescent bulbs provide) during the evening, to "wind down" and aid in eventually falling asleep. But perhaps the objectives are different in this case. "Circadian rhythm" effects don't necessarily lend themselves to rapid/frequent changes in lighting, but there may be other effects that take place over shorter time-spans. As a mild disclaimer, the company I work for manufactures a variety of LED lighting products that provide adjustable CCT, as well as other spectrum adjustments ( But we have no connection to this study.

Are the children separated into classrooms by disability? So the light levels can be adjusted without concern of each child having a different preference of light level and color temperature. Seems to me there are a lot of variables at play in this experiment. Interested to see the results.

It would be helpful to know what the experimental protocols are. If all classrooms have been converted to this system, and if the individual teacher has control over the lighting settings during the day, it will be difficult to compare whether student behaviors have truly been improved. Perhaps some classrooms will have fixed lighting settings for some of the year, variable for some of the year. As Jennifer notes, it will be fascinating to see how the teachers use the system, how often they change the settings, how they evaluate whether acting out behaviors have been reduced, and how long the teacher continues to change the settings over months of time. Will the effect be significant enough that the teacher will continue to use it as a tool six months down the road?

They didn't mention what training they will give to the staff in how the lights might best be used. Although we are a long way from having all the answers, it seems unlikely that persistent results will occur if the system is used randomly by people who are unfamiliar with light source colour and colour tuning.

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