We live in three dimensions, and we sometimes think we might add more dimensions to that list as we advance. Scientists at the University of Washington may have just leap-frogged us into the future by dropping a dimension, however. Researchers there have built a two-dimensional light emitting diode that they claim is the world’s thinnest LED that can be used as a source of light. The incredible LED is only three atoms thick, yet it’s mechanically strong – and because it’s patterned after two-dimensional, flexible semiconductors, it’s far more efficient than it’s fat, 3D counterparts.
Right now, most consumer electronics use three-dimensional LEDs, but as devices continue to get smaller, there’s demand for a light source that’s even more compact, while maintaining high levels of efficiency. Current 3D LEDs are 10 to 20 times thicker than the LEDs being developed by the University of Washington.
“These are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, yet the light they emit can be seen by standard measurement equipment,” said Jason Ross, a UW materials science and engineering graduate student, and co-author of the study. “This is a huge leap of miniaturization of technology, and because it’s a semiconductor, you can do almost everything with it that is possible with existing, three-dimensional silicon technologies,” Ross said.
The 2D LED is made from flat sheets of the molecular semiconductor tungsten diselenide, which is a two-dimensional material recently identified as one of the world’s thinnest-known semiconductors, reports a press release. “In regular microchips, work is performed via the movement of electrons within the chip,” reports a href=”http://www.gizmag.com/thinnest-leds/31295/” target=”_blank”>Gizmag. But these new ultra-thin LEDs may one day be able to use light instead of electrons, saving power and reducing heat.
“A promising solution is to replace the electrical interconnect with optical ones, which will maintain the high bandwidth but consume less energy,” said Xiaodong Xu, an assistant professor in materials science and engineering and physics. “Our work makes it possible to make highly integrated and energy-efficient devices in areas such as lighting, optical communication and nano lasers.”
Lead image via University of Washington