Nanocrystals spark efficient LEDs

August 25/September 1, 2004

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory have found a way to make highly efficient light-emitting diodes from nanocrystals, or tiny bits of semiconductor.

The light-emitting diodes can be as small as a few nanometers in diameter; a nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter, or the span of 10 hydrogen atoms.

The nanoscale lights use very little power and can be made in different colors simply by varying the sizes of the nanocrystals.

The microscopic light-emitting diodes could eventually be used in nanoscale optics, including light-based computer chips. Large numbers of the microscopic lights could also be used as ultra-high efficiency lights, including street lighting, according to the researchers.

Nanocrystals are easy to manufacture, durable, and are very efficient light emitters. The difficulty in using them as light sources is finding a way to electrically excite the crystals to kick off the light-emission process. This is because nanocrystals have an insulating shell of molecules. Previous efforts used organic conductors to excite the nanocrystals, but were not very efficient.

The researchers' method uses a quantum well, or electron trap, to inject pairs of electrons and their charge opposite, holes, into the nanocrystals. Electrons and holes pair up, annihilate each other, and the resulting energy is released as photons.

The technology could become commercially viable in three to five years, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the June 10, 2004 issue of Nature.

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