New Lights Shine from Wake Forest University Lab
First there were incandescent lights. We've been using them ever since Thomas Edison invented the first practical ones. One problem: they're quite inefficient. Then there were fluorescents. They tend to hum and buzz, and really nothing looks all that good under fluorescent light. And compact fluorescent bulbs... but if you break one of those, you have to call a haz-mat team. Then there are LEDs, those unnatural bluish lights that have replaced a good many headlights. But pretty soon, according to Wake Forest University Physics Professor Dave Carroll, there will be an entirely new light bulb on store shelves.“It's a FIPEL,” Dr. Carroll says.A “FIPEL?”“It’s not an incandescent bulb, it’s not an LED, and it’s not an OLED, and it’s not a compact fluorescent. It’s a FIPEL. Well, you’ve got to call it something. That stands for Field-Induced, Polymer Electro-Luminescence.”Dave Carroll, who's also the director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest, is head of the team that's developing the FIPEL. "It is a new type of lightbulb," Carroll says, "so it generates light by stimulating a polymer to create the light. And it stimulates the polymer in the same way a microwave oven heats a ham. This does the same thing. It has a couple of plates and a sandwich. And in between the sandwich it has a piece of plastic. And we turn an AC field on that stimulates that plastic to glow.” Not only is the FIPEL energy and cost efficient, it's shatterproof, it doesn't make any noise, and the light is much more natural: a soft, white light for large-scale lighting. Actually, though, one feature of the FIPEL that no other bulb has is that it can be made to emit light of any color.“That’s important, because no other lighting source allows that sort of perfect tunability. With most of them you’re kind of stuck with the colors they come in, and you can’t really make them any other color. Ours, you can make any color. Any color at all. I mean from red, green and blue to bright, vibrant colors like in a display, all the way to perfect white or soft white, that’s more easy on your eye.”And that color versatility not only makes it perfect for regular illumination, but lighting designers and decorators are likely to find that it opens up whole new creative possibilities. “Absolutely," Carroll says, And people have known for a long time that if we could get organic devices to work, that we would have this power at our fingertips. And those devices have been traditionally thought to be O-L-E-Ds or so-called OLEDs, which stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode. And folks have thought for a long time that that was going to be it. That we were going to have exactly what I’m describing, from OLEDs. But they underestimated how difficult it was to build OLEDS of any size. And that size restriction raised the cost of OLEDS by quite a bit.”Dave Carroll is not only enthusiastic about the future and potential of the FIPEL, he gives Wake Forest University and the development team high marks as well....“I’m very excited about it and y’know the fact of the matter is that Wake is a great place to work and it lets its people do things like this, and go off on these tangents, and invent things and we’ve had a lot of Wake Forest students involved in this and they’ve all been great. I’m very very excited, and I do think you’re going to see these in the stores fairly soon.”
Wake Forest is working with a company to manufacture the technology, and it could be ready for consumers as early as next year.