LED Improvement via Biology

The digital industry is always looking for better ways to make displays: whether by making them more cost-effective and efficient, or by making them easier to look at.  ffSometimes the science world turns to biology for inspiration or useful materials, and they can come up with some incredible new designs. Here’s a look at two bio-inspired innovations in LED technology from the last few years.

Could we improve LEDs by learning from fireflies?  It seems like it, according to a paper published in Optics Express in 2013. One problem with LED efficiency is that once they produce light, much of that light is lost to internal reflection.  The scientific team behind this paper studied the structure of the firefly’s “lantern” and noted the curious pattern of overlapping scales, called a “factory-roof pattern.” They created a simplified model of the pattern, and used it to create a coating that could be used on the inside of LEDs.  It turned out that the coating was able to increase LED efficiency by as much as 55 percent—a huge improvement!

Other scientists have actually incorporated biological materials—proteins—into new LED technology.  An important issue in LED research is making LEDs that are better at producing white light.  This is important for displays, and could also become a more efficient and environmentally-friendly replacement for the light bulbs that are in use right now.  Seeing the positive and negative qualities of organic and inorganic white LEDs, a team of scientists from Spain and Germany came up with a compromise; a hybrid LED using rubber materials that contain fluorescent proteins.  (Fluorescent proteins come from animals and other organisms that can emit light in response to stimulation—like jellyfish) By layering fluorescent rubber materials of different colors (red, green, and blue, the primary colors of light), the team was able to create a successful and cost-efficient white LED. The new hybrid white LED might even be easier on the eyes than the white LEDs that are currently in use.

The field of LED displays and signage is constantly advancing and we clearly come into contact with many different disciplines as we work to move it forward—even biology!

The papers discussed here are “Optimal overlayer inspired by Photuris firefly improves light-extraction efficiency of existing light-emitting diodes” (Bay et al., found in Optics Express) and “Bioinspired Hybrid White Light Emitting Diodes” (Weber et al., found in Advanced Materials).

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