George “Bud” Brainard, PhD

headshot of bud brainard

Home Institution: Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University


Current Positions: 

My Driving Question

What is the impact of light and color on human health?

Scholar Project 

From Photos to Human Health: Exploring the Power of Light

Over millennia, light has been recognized as the principal stimulus for the visual system. In contrast, it has only been during the past 50 years that we’ve begun to appreciate light as a potent circadian, neuroendocrine, and neurobehavioral stimulus for humans. While much has been discovered, we are still in the infancy of understanding the capacity of light to produce beneficial effects in medical applications or in people’s daily lives.

The broad goal of Dr. Brainard’s work as an Institute Scholar is to push the boundaries of research on light and human health. In his initial work, he explored the fields of quantum physics and consciousness.  He then developed a study design for a clinical trial testing a form of modern color therapy. That study design uses a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled study on patients with chronic pain. The trial has the potential to add important data to long-standing questions about the efficacy of this therapeutic approach.

Dr. Brainard is currently conducting a controlled pilot study on the effect of light wavelengths on human prostate cancer tumorigenesis. This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board, and is being performed collaboratively between Jefferson Medical College and Tulane School of Medicine. Expected outcomes of the pilot research would have public health significance and could lead to the development of preventative strategies involving outdoor night lighting and the illumination of building interiors.


For more than 30 years, George Brainard, PhD, has studied the effects of light on the biology and behavior of animals and humans. His research has been widely supported by public, industrial, and private sources. He has published more than 100 original research articles, authored more than 50 book chapters, and edited or co-written nine books or monographs, including four lighting standards for the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

Dr. Brainard has been the US Division Six director for the International Commission on Illumination (USNC/CIE) since 1992, chaired the IESNA Photobiology Committee for 10 years, and is currently chair of the IESNA Light and Health Committee.

His research team has developed and tested advanced lighting designs for treating patients with winter depression.

In 2014, Dr. Brainard and his collaborators were honored with the NASA Johnson Space Center Director’s Innovation Award for their contributions to a new lighting system for the International Space Station and other future space habitats. This system is intended to provide lighting countermeasures for health risks for astronauts and ground crew during space flight missions,

Over the years he has received numerous national and international honors for teaching and research. During his years as a TIIH Scholar, he received the Research Award from the Professional Lighting Design Convention (Copenhagen, 2013), the Outstanding Researcher Award from the Astronomical League (Chicago, 2012) and the Research Award for Excellence on Photobiology, Photochemistry and Photophysics from the American Society for Photobiology (Providence, 2010).

During his career, Dr. Brainard has taught neuroanatomy and neurophysiology to more than 7,000 medical and graduate students. He is a recipient of the Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Education and Training
  • Fellowship, General Medicine/CAM, Harvard Medical School
  • Graduate Courses, Biological Engineering, MIT
  • MPH, Clinical Effectiveness, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Residency, Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical Center
  • MD, New York University
  • BA, Biophysics, University of California Berkeley
Selected Honors
  • Patient-Oriented Career Development Award (K23), National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Selected Publications

Book Chapter 

Research Papers 

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.