Made On Earth — Interstellar Visions

Biohacking Craft & Design Science

backside of Interstellar Light Application's moon light collector

Down a lonely stretch of Sonoran desert highway south of Tucson, Ariz., lies the washboarded pull-off for Interstellar Light Applications. Visitors don’t have to wait for the dust to settle to lay eyes on ILA’s majestic moonlight collector, towering 6 stories high and 60 feet across, and weighing in at a healthy 25 tons.

Science enthusiast Richard Chapin conceived of the collector when a close friend was faced with a terminal illness. Chapin was intrigued by research on full-spectrum light therapy, which had been conducted mostly using artificial light sources.

Chapin wondered if the unique spectrum of moonlight might have been overlooked. The sublime lunar glow carries slightly different frequencies than sunlight, with more reds and yellows. It’s no secret that moonlight is essential to a variety of life forms on Earth, but could it be used to aid the ailing?

Chapin collaborated with a crew of passionate engineers, telescope makers, and astronomers to design the collector. Comprised of 84 mirrored panels, each 4 feet by 8 feet, the “non-imaging optical array” is parabolic, hydraulic, and rotates 360 degrees with a mere 5hp motor. To weather the harsh desert conditions, the panels are made of a unique sandwich construction, with materials like aluminum honeycomb chosen for lightness, rigidity, and stability.

The collector is steered with amazing precision; the light can be focused on an area as small as 1mm or as large as 10 feet across. Due to the high volume of visitors, folks are allotted only a few minutes in its light, longer for those with serious illnesses.

Richard and his wife, Monica Chapin, are focused on promoting research and gaining scientific backing. They’ve worked with University of Arizona geoscientists who documented molecular changes in quartz crystals exposed to the collector for 45 minutes.

Believers abound, as witnessed by the exuberance of visitors and the testimonials on the ILA website. On any given full moon, folks from far and wide make the pilgrimage, hopeful that a solution could really be that simple, natural, and abundant.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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