Glowing plastic material can create light bulbs of any shape

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Wake Forest researchers have developed a lighting material that could rival the current king of lighting, LEDs. Using nanotechnology, the researchers created a plastic material that glows when an electric current runs through it. This material, unlike LEDs and their more polluting predecessors, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) is also unique in that it doesn’t have to necessarily be one shape—since it’s plastic, it can be made into any shape.

“People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them,” said David Carroll, the light’s lead researcher. “The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more.” Another issue with LED lights is they tend to have a bluish tint, while fluorescent tubes are yellow. This plastic material has a color closer to sunlight, but can be made to emit any color. “If you wanted blue lights, discos would still be popular. You want lights that have a spectral content that is appealing to us inside of a building,” Carroll also said. “You want a light that won’t shatter and create a hazmat situation while your children are around.”

The technology builds off of a decade of research in field-induced polymer electroluminescence. The Wake Forest researchers added multi-walled carbon nanotubes to three layers of moldable white-emitting polymer, which led to a five-fold increase in the light emitted by the device compared to the polymer without the nanotubes.

Some applications for this material include light displays, marquee lighting, bus and subway signs. Wake Forest has already partnered with a company that could possibly bring something that uses this material to the market by next year. If successful, it could greatly reduce power consumption, helping consumers and businesses save money.