Fireflies make light without electricity, and by copying them, scientists have figured out how to do the same thing. Only instead of the yellowish light of fireflies in the night, a team at Syracuse University has figured out how to make green and orange and red light — all out of firefly juice.

Fireflies make light by combining the enzymes luciferin and luciferase. (They’re not evil enzymes; “lucifer” means light-bringing.) The Syracuse team stuck a bunch of luciferase on nanorods. Add luciferin, and bam! — light. Their system’s at least 20 times more efficient than other firefly-mimicking lights , they say, because of the size and structure of their nanorods. Differently sized nanorods also make for different colors.

Grist relies on the support of generous readers like you. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Of course, we all know what this research will ultimately be used for: Christmas lights that twinkle like fireflies and don’t have to be plugged in. Science! So awesome; so useful.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.