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Fireflies inspired a Wayne State professor’s medical research and made him millions

terry priest

As you watch fireflies flit around your backyard at night, do you ever wonder, "How does that firefly do it? What makes him glow?" 

Chemistry professor A. Paul Schaap asked himself this very question while working in his lab at Wayne State University where he was searching for the molecule at the heart of "bioluminescence."

In July 1986, he finally found the answer. That realization allowed him to build a company, and to eventually become one of Michigan's honored philanthropists.

Professor Schaap joined Stateside to talk about how he discovered the roots of bioluminescene. 

While Professor Schaap has long been searching for what was creating luminescence in fireflies, he didn’t always know what the implications of his findings would be.

"It certainly was understood that being able to make luminescence would have practical applications,” Professor Schaap explained. "I mean a very simple one is emergency lighting. Eventually these compounds that we were able to make became useful in medical testing, and that turned out to be a very important application.” 

Listen above to hear more about how Professor Schaap isolated the molecule that lights up fireflies, what his long term goals as a scientist were, and how he became a significant philanthropic force in Michigan. 

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