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University of Utah physicists invented a new “spintronic” organic light-emitting diode or OLED that promises to be brighter, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the kinds of LEDs now used in television and computer displays, lighting, traffic lights and numerous electronic devices.
“It’s a completely different technology,” said Z. Valy Vardeny, University of Utah distinguished professor of physics and senior author of a study of the new OLEDs in the July 13, 2012 issue of the journal Science. “These new organic LEDs can be brighter than regular organic LEDs.”
The Utah physicists made a prototype of the new kind of LED – known technically as a spin-polarized organic LED or spin OLED – that produces an orange color. But Vardeny expects it will be possible within two years to use the new technology to produce red and blue as well, and he eventually expects to make white spin OLEDs.
However, it could be five years before the new LEDs hit the market because right now, they operate at temperatures no warmer than about minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and must be improved so they can run at room temperature, Vardeny adds.
Vardeny developed the new kind of LED with Tho D. Nguyen, a research assistant professor of physics and first author of the study, and Eitan Ehrenfreund, a physicist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israel Science Foundation and U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation. The research was part of the University of Utah’s new Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative.
The original kind of LEDs, introduced in the early 1960s, used a conventional semiconductor to generate colored light. Newer organic LEDs or OLEDs – with an organic polymer or “plastic” semiconductor to generate light – have become increasingly common in the last decade, particularly for displays in MP3 music players, cellular phones and digital cameras. OLEDs also are expected to be used increasingly for room lighting. Big-screen TVs with existing OLEDs will hit the market later this year.
The new kind of OLED invented by the Utah physicists also uses an organic semiconductor, but isn’t simply an electronic device that stores information based on the electrical charges of electrons. Instead, it is a “spintronic” device – meaning information also is stored using the “spins” of the electrons.