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World’s thinnest light bulb is made from graphene

You may have heard of graphene. It’s the “new” wonder material that’s super-strong, acts as a super capacitor, and now can produce the world’s thinnest light source.

A team of scientists from Columbia Engineering, Seoul National University (SNU), and Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS) reported that they have demonstrated, for the first time, an on-chip visible light source using graphene. Graphene is a thin and perfectly crystalline form of carbon. Yes, that means this light source is about an atom thick. You’ve got to wonder what this may mean for ever-emerging thin-film OLED (Organic LED) lighting products.

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Led by Young Duck Kim, a postdoctoral research scientist in James Hone’s group at Columbia Engineering, the researchers 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.

“We’ve created what is essentially the world’s thinnest light bulb,” says Hone, Wang Fon-Jen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia Engineering and coauthor 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.”

The team was able to show that the graphene was reaching temperatures of above 2,500 degrees Celsius, hot enough to glow brightly.

The group is currently working to further characterize the performance of these devices, for example, how fast they can be turned on and off to create “bits” for optical communications. They will also attempt to develop techniques for integrating them into flexible substrates.

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This isn’t all science fiction. Networking light sources via Visual Light Communications has been studied for several years; today’s LEDs could be used to send data by turning on and off very fast. And with more and more LEDs being incorporated into fixtures, thin-film OLED and now graphene, lights as we know them may become fully integrated into entire walls or ceilings.