World’s Thinnest Light Bulb May Change Technology As We Know It

Bright visible light emission from graphene. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Bright visible light emission from graphene. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Researchers have managed to create the world’s thinnest light bulb by using graphene. Scientists have been able to fit devices onto tiny computer chips, but to do this with a light bulb has proven impossible, until now.

Light bulbs need to reach thousands of degrees Celsius to emit light, and at these temperatures, it would only damage the computer chip. Researchers from James Hone’s group at Columbia University have found a way by using a material called graphene. The study, “Bright Visible Light Emission from Graphene,” was published in the Advance Online Publication (AOP) in Nature Nanotechnology.

How graphene might change the world:

Young Duck Kim, a postdoctoral research scientist and lead author of the paper, said they have demonstrated—for the first time—an on-chip visible light source using graphene, an atomically thin and perfectly crystalline form of carbon, as a filament. They attached small strips of graphene to metal electrodes, suspended the strips above the substrate, and passed a current through the filaments to cause them to heat up, Columbia Engineering said in a statement.

Bright visible light emission in graphene:

“We’ve created what is essentially the world’s thinnest light bulb,” said Hone, Wang Fon-Jen, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia Engineering, and co-author of the study. “This new type of ‘broadband’ light emitter can be integrated into chips, and will pave the way towards the realization of atomically thin, flexible, and transparent displays, and graphene-based on-chip optical communications.”

Working in the microscale comes with its own set of unique challenges.

Young Duck Kim explains to IFL Science: “It is impossible to distinguish a material that is only a single atom in thickness by the naked eye. Handling and working with atomically thin materials is not trivial and requires many special techniques.”

Graphene light bulb made of ‘wonder material’:

Yun Daniel Park, a professor from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Seoul National University and co-lead author, notes that they are working with the same material that Thomas Edison used when he invented the incandescent light bulb. “Edison originally used carbon as a filament for his light bulb, and here we are going back to the same element, but using it in its pure form, graphene, and at its ultimate size limit—one atom thick.”

Being able to create light in small structures on the surface of a chip proves that fully integrated “photonic” circuits are a very real possibility. Photonic circuits would replace electric circuits with light. By using graphene, companies could develop flexible and transparent smartphones and tablets.

Light travels faster than what current electric currents can, so devices made with graphene would be much faster and use less energy.

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