What if you flipped the light switch in your living room and instead of lamps or overhead fixtures, an entire wall blinked on? What if the logo on your Aztec jacket glowed on its own? Or what if you could roll up your computer screen for easy transport?
Far-fetched? Not really. Inventor Kee Moon, Ph.D., associate professor of engineering at San Diego State, believes a new technology discovered by his research team may soon begin to change the way we think about light.
Moon’s team, including faculty colleagues, Khaled Morsi, Ph.D., and Samuel Kassegne, Ph.D., plus a complement of “brilliant students,” have devised a way to make a flexible, three-dimensional microstructure from inexpensive metallic powders such as carbon, aluminum and graphite.
This microscopic grid acts as an electrode, carrying the current needed to power organic light-emitting polymers to create a bright, bendable and inexpensive source of light.
Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) luminance is an emerging technology already used in some television and cell phone displays. Until now, however, it’s lacked sufficient brightness, affordability and flexibility for widespread commercial use.
But the SDSU research team’s approach, Moon said, solves all three problems, realizing the dream of flexible OLED technology, an advancement dubbed “the holy grail” by some scientists in the field. Factor in low energy requirements plus a relatively green manufacturing process, and the prospect of flexible OLED lighting becomes all the more compelling.
The SDSU discovery also adds the great advantage of scalability to OLED materials. “We can make our microstructure the dimension we would like,” Moon said. “We can cover a large area in an inexpensive way.”
Thus the futuristic concept of light-emitting walls or draperies.
The method Moon’s team uses to solidify metallic powders into microstructures of variable sizes or thicknesses is called “sintering.” Heat and pressure convert the powders into molded solids.
Over the past three years, the researchers invented and patented a specific sintering process they call “current-activated tip-based sintering” or CATS. It was this new approach to a known process that suggested the possibility of flexible OLED applications.
Working through the SDSU Tech-nology Transfer Office, Moon and his colleagues recently patented their new discovery and licensed it to Korean-based AMO Corp. for commercial development. The team plans to collaborate with AMO throughout the development and production stages ahead.
“Many faculty members have great ideas with great commercial potential,” Moon said. “However, we are scientists and, in most cases, ignorant of the tech transfer process. Mike (Rondelli) and his staff at SDSU’s Technology Transfer Office facilitate the process for us, so we can put the science to practical use.”
Read more about how SDSU is taking research to market.