This is a picture of a wave crashing on the New Jersey shore. It glows because of dinoflagellates — little, single-celled plants, animals, and bacteria that float around on the water, moving about with the help of long, moveable protein strands called flagella. Some dinoflagellates are bioluminescent; that is, chemical reactions inside their bodies produce light. The result is glowing oceans. Or, as maker Caleb Kraft recently discovered, the dinoflagellates also make for a soft blue nightlight with really nifty special effects.
You can watch Kraft's nightlight project at YouTube. It's pretty simple to do at home. At it's most basic, all you need to do is purchase some bioluminescent dinoflagellates online, keep them alive in your home, and give them a good shaking occasionally to trigger the chemical reaction.
A couple more helpful links:
• Where Kraft bought his dinoflagellates
• A guide to other dinoflagellate dealers, and to the care and feeding of unicellular organisms
• Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who are studying dinoflagellate bioluminescence to better understand how it works and what role it plays in the ecosystem
• A detailed explanation of what dinoflagellates are and why they glow
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.