Concept render of the 2D LED (via University of Washington)


In a world that seeks to make everything thinner and smaller as quickly as possible, the University of Washington has developed a light-emitting diode (LED) that’s only three atoms thick.


The engineers at UW develop the diode to be ultra thin, but also stronger and more energy efficient than existing LEDs by relying on tungsten diselenide, a two-dimensional material that belongs to a group of the world’s thinnest semiconductors. Tungsten diselenide is so thin, a single sheet has to be extracted using adhesive tape.


Most consumer electronics are developed using three-dimensional LEDs, which are approximately 10 to 20 percent thicker than their two-dimensional counterparts. How thick is three-atoms-thick in real-world terms? Approximately 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of human hair, according to UW researchers.


Despite its size, however, the LED is actually durable and may pave the way for low-energy, high-efficiency consumer electronics. The team actually intends to develop the super-thin diode for use as a light energy source for consumer electronics.


Researchers discovered that the LED reacts uniquely to polarized light; it actually responds differently than any other material in the world, making researchers hopeful that it can harness light as an energy source, replacing the need for electricity-based computer chips. If this happens, it would allow for light to be used as an interconnection to power nano-scale computer chips, opening the door for an entirely new line of computers and other mobile devices that can maintain high bandwidth while wasting less energy.


The ultra thin LED is still under development but some of its first uses are expected to be within the world of microelectronics, including being used for the enhancement of lighting, optical solutions and nano lasers. The team will later harness the technology for use in everyday consumer electronics that are more energy efficient and, of course, ultra-thin, likely to include mobile devices, computers and wearables. 


The research team is currently observing the most efficient way to produce the LEDs and is also looking at how it can change when the two-dimensional semiconductors are stacked in different ways. It may be a while before we see these tiny LEDs out on the market, but now we know that human hair is much, much thicker than the thinnest LED.



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