New type of light-emitting material could rival existing OLEDs

The new phosphors glow in blue and orange when triggered by ultraviolet light (Photo: Marcin Szczepanski, U-M College of Engineering)

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are a technology that shows great promise, as they are thinner, lighter, and less expensive to manufacture than their non-organic LED counterparts.

Despite their name, however, they are not fully organic, as small amounts of precious metals are required to make them glow. A completely organic and even cheaper alternative could be on its way, though … researchers from the University of Michigan have created metal-free organic crystals that shine with phosphorescence – until now, only non- or semi-organic compounds have displayed this property.

The crystals – or phosphors – glow white in visible light, while radiating blue, green, yellow and orange in ultraviolet light. Different colors can be obtained by altering their chemical composition.

The light itself comes from molecules of oxygen and carbon called “aromatic carbonyls.” Typically, they only produce a weak phosphorescence, and only under special conditions such as very low temperatures. In the U Michiganmaterial, however, the carbonyls bond with halogens in the crystal, packing the molecules tightly. This suppresses vibration, minimizing energy lost as heat, and maximizing energy that produces phosphorescence under practical conditions. The result is a brightness comparable to that of OLEDs, which are themselves brighter than LEDs.

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