Thursday, October 27, 2005

Future Not So Bright for Light Bulb

In cartoons, when one of the characters gets a bright idea, it is usually depicted by a light bulb appearing above his head. A light of a different sort must have popped above the head of Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.

Bowers was experimenting with something called quantum dots. They are extraordinarily tiny globes of atoms measuring thousands of times less than the width of a human hair. They have excitable electrons that give off colored light when exposed to an electric charge. In other words, they are light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

But what surprised Bowers is that the light given off by his new batch of quantum dots wasn’t blue, as he expected. They gave off a brilliant white light.

LEDs are currently used in various applications. They can give off red, green, and yellow light. Recently, scientists have even invented some that can give off blue light.

But Bowers stumbled on a way to produce a nice white light with LED technology. And, what’s more, the quantum dots can be mixed with liquid polyurethane and painted onto almost any surface. If that surface is then exposed to an electric charge, it glows white.

So could this be the beginning of the end of the ordinary light bulb and even the fluorescent tube?

A “bulb” coated with LED quantum dots can produce a light that is twice as bright as a 60 watt light bulb and last for 50,000 hours. And, since LEDs do not produce heat, they don’t use nearly as much electricity.

Estimates are that conversion to LED lighting technology could save as much as 29 percent of the nation’s lighting bill.

And the new quantum dot LEDs would not be limited to being painted onto something that looks like a standard light bulb. You can paint it on almost anything.

If you wanted your walls to glow a certain color instead of just being painted that color, just use the LED paint. Connect your walls to an electricity source, flip the switch, and your room is lit by dazzlingly bright walls.

Use battery power and LED-laced dye and you can walk down the street on a dark night and not worry about being seen. Your clothing will produce all the light you need to see where you’re going.

Coat a basketball with these LEDs and play some night hoops.

And why worry about buying light bulbs for your lamps. Just coat the lamp shades with the LED-laced dye and the lamp will give off all the light you need right from the shade itself.

There’s really no limit to what can be lit up with the quantum dot paint. And it can come in a variety of colors, including white.

The next step is to see if the LED material can be commercially produced for a reasonable price. Like all new technology, it is apt to be expensive at first. But once the price comes down to somewhere near the current cost of a light bulb, you can bid Thomas Edison’s venerable invention a fond adieu.

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