The lighting revolution has only just begun

Zinc oxide crystal. Credit: Matthew Foley, UTS.
Zinc oxide crystal. Credit: Matthew Foley, UTS.

LED lighting is sweeping the world. It’s energy efficient, long lasting, and could save users billions of dollars worldwide and dramatically reduce carbon emissions. But it’s still a young technology. Much more efficient lights are on the way.

The bright clear traffic lights that guide and frustrate drivers in our cities use a fraction of the energy of conventional light globes. Each traffic light has 140 or so LED lights producing a strong directed light. And the lights last a decade or so. Scientists at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) contributed to improving the performance of the man-made crystals at the heart of these LED lights.

“The light in LEDs is produced by crystals of gallium nitride and zinc oxide,” says UTS researcher Assoc. Prof. Matthew Phillips. “These crystals don’t exist in nature. They’re made by creating sandwiches of thin layers of materials—one atomic layer at a time.”

The crystals are made at high temperatures and often have structural and chemical defects that affect performance. Remove these defects and you can make even more efficient lights.

And that’s what Matthew’s doing. Just by optimising manufacturing processes he believes that LEDs could be six times better than they are today.

And that’s just the start. He’s working on new materials that could lead to even better performance.

For more information: Faculty of Science, University of Technology, Sydney, Matthew Phillips, Tel: +61 (2) 9514 1620, matthew.phillips@uts.edu.au, www.science.uts.edu.au/mau

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