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Nanotech Lights Improve on Fluorescent, LED, CFL Bulbs

Greg Smith (foreground) and DavidCarroll with nanotech light (Ken Bennett, Wake Forest University)

Greg Smith, foreground, and David Carroll with nanotech light (Ken Bennett, Wake Forest University)

Physicists at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland developed a new type of electric lighting that improves on many of the current commercial and display lighting technologies. Professor David Carroll, director of Wake Forest’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, led the team that published its findings online in the journal Organic Electronics (paid subscription required).

The new type of lighting is based on a technology known as field-induced polymer electroluminescence that converts an electric current into a soft, white light the researchers say alleviates some of the problems with ordinary fluorescent lights. “People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes, and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them,” says Carroll. “The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more.”

The device developed by the researchers, is a project of Wake Forest graduate student Greg Smith. The light is made of three layers of a moldable polymer blended with a small amount of multiple-walled carbon nanotubes. When stimulated by an electric current, the nanotubes in the matrix glow, giving off a bright white light similar to the sunlight. The material is versatile enough to be made in any color and any shape, including two-by-four-foot panels that can replace replace office lighting, or bulbs with standard sockets sockets to fit household lamps and light fixtures.

The researchers say the nanotube/polymer lights are at least twice as efficient as compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, similar to the efficiency of light-emitting diode (LED) lights. However, the polymer plastic will not shatter, nor do the lights contain mercury like CFLs. The nanotube/polymer lights also emit a more natural white light than LEDS that give off a bluish tint.

“There is something very rewarding about building a device and seeing it light up for the first time using a system you helped develop,” says grad student Smith. “The ultimate reward for me would be to walk into a building and seeing a lighting panel using technology that I helped develop.”

Smith may see that wish fulfilled before too long. Wake Forest says it is working with a company to manufacture the technology and plans to have it ready for consumers in the next year.

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