Tech That Lights Up the Whole Ceiling

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Organic light-emitting diodes or OLEDs are a magical kind of LED that can turn all kinds of surfaces into light sources. But to become a household name, they must be cheaper and easier to produce. German scientists have a solution involving laser tech.  

OLEDs are slowly but steadily getting integrated into all kinds of electronics, including ridiculously amazing flexible screens. They're also far more energy-efficient than LCDs. An OLED consists of several layers: an electrode on the bottom, a luminescent layer with organic molecules, and an indium tin oxide layer that conducts electricity to the molecules so they can light up — the same indium tin oxide often used in solar technology.

All this isn't cheap: An OLED disc three-inches wide can easily cost around $325. The expense comes from the intensive production process, which currently requires attaching a bunch of extra conductor paths to the indium tin oxide layer so that the resulting light is uniform. That uniformity challenge is also why OLEDs tend to be so small at the moment.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Munich have been working in the lab on a way to make OLEDs cheaper, and larger. They envision getting to a point where we'll have an OLED ceiling that lights up instantly at the flip of a switch. Their technique is, of course, very precise.

The scientists put a kind of "plate" with micrometer slits over the electrode, deposit metal over the plate, and use laser to melt the metal and press it through the little spaces into the electrode. The resulting electrode is covered in very small conductor paths — far smaller than ones dotting conventional OLEDs.

The laser tech has been demonstrated successfully in the lab so the team plans to work with Philips on introducing the technique in an industrial setting. In the next two or three years, imagine the difference a whole lit ceiling could make in an office, especially if your cubicle isn't remotely close to a window.

Photo: Scientists in Germany have a new technique to produce organic light-emitting diodes efficiently and at a lower cost. Credit: Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology.

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