3M makes more than 55,000 products, most of them intentionally unsexy—Scotch tape, dental-care goods, car wax. "But we wanted to flex the muscles at 3M," says designer Todd Bracher, who teamed up with the company's newly launched division, 3M Architectural Markets. "So we looked at the capabilities of their applied sciences and created a new, revolutionary lighting system." Called Lightfalls, the bulbs could look at home in a nightclub or art gallery. (It lands in commercial spaces in January.) To create them, Bracher took a 3M-made, highly reflective optical film and applied it to curved, double elbow-shaped reflectors. For every seven reflectors, one is backlit by an LED, and 98% of the light travels from reflector to reflector, creating a waterfall of light and giving each bulb the illuminative power of seven. That means a 400-square-foot-wall-size system of 97 reflectors uses less energy than a hair dryer—though, no, 3M isn't making hair dryers. Yet. (Price upon request, 3m.com)
A version of this article appeared in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.