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Technology & Innovation

On The Horizon: Light Sources Made Of Glowing Plastic

Wake Forest University engineers discovered that adding carbon nanotubes to a special kind of polymer causes it to give off a comfortable white light when electricity is run through it.

What’s the Latest Development?

Physicist David Carroll and his team at Wake Forest University have designed a plastic material that gives off a comfortable white glow when electricity is run through it, thanks to carbon nanotubes embedded within. The material can exist as a simple flat panel or it can be molded into shapes, including those of standard light bulbs. Also, they use about the same amount of electricity as LED bulbs: in other words, very little. A paper published in the January 2013 Organic Electronics describes the science involved.

What’s the Big Idea?

The technology behind the material, field-induced polymer electroluminescence, has been in development for more than a decade. With the addition of the nanotubes, the plastic gave off five times more light. The quality of the light mattered as well, according to Carroll: “People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them. The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more.” The team is working with a company to bring these light sources to market as soon as next year.

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