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LED means... Light-emitting diode

LEDs are widely used as indicator lights on electronic devices and increasingly in higher power applications such as flashlights and area lighting. An LED is usually a small area (less than 1 mm2) light source, often with optics added directly on top of the chip to shape its radiation pattern and assist in reflection. The color of the emitted light depends on the composition and condition of the semiconducting material used, and can be infrared, visible, or ultraviolet. Besides lighting, interesting applications include using UV-LEDs for sterilization of water and disinfection of devices and as a grow light to enhance photosynthesis in plants. A light-emitting-diode (LED), is a semiconductor diode that emits light when an electric current is applied in the forward direction of the device, as in the simple LED circuit. The effect is a form of electroluminescence where incoherent and narrow-spectrum light is emitted from the p-n junction in a solid state material.


The first known report of a light-emitting solid-state diode was made in 1907 by the British experimenter H. J. Round of Marconi Labs when he noticed electroluminescence produced from a crystal of silicon carbide while using a cat's-whisker detector. Russian Oleg Vladimirovich Losev independently created the first LED in the mid 1920s; his research, though distributed in Russian, German and British scientific journals, was ignored and no practical use was made of the discovery for several decades. Rubin Braunstein of the Radio Corporation of America reported on infrared emission from gallium arsenide (GaAs) and other semiconductor alloys in 1955. Braunstein observed infrared emission generated by simple diode structures using GaSb, GaAs, InP, and Ge-Si alloys at room temperature and at 77 kelvin.

In 1961, experimenters Bob Biard and Gary Pittman working at Texas Instruments, found that gallium arsenide gave off infrared radiation when electric current was applied. Biard and Pittman were able to establish the priority of their work and received the patent for the infrared light-emitting diode.

The first practical visible-spectrum (red) LED was developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr., while working at General Electric Company. He later moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Holonyak is seen as the "father of the light-emitting diode". M. George Craford, a former graduate student of Holonyak's, invented the first yellow LED and 10x brighter red and red-orange LEDs in 1972. Up to 1968 visible and infrared LEDs were extremely costly, on the order of US $200 per unit, and so had little practical application. The Monsanto Corporation was the first organization to mass-produce visible LEDs, using gallium arsenide phosphide in 1968 to produce red LEDs suitable for indicators. Hewlett Packard (HP) introduced light-emitting diodes in 1968, initially using GaAsP material supplied by Monsanto. The technology proved to have major applications for alphanumeric displays and was integrated into HP’s early handheld calculators.

LED breakthroughs

The first high-brightness blue LED was demonstrated by Shuji Nakamura of Nichia Corporation and was based on InGaN borrowing on critical developments in GaN nucleation on sapphire substrates and the demonstration of p-type doping of GaN which were developed by Isamu Akasaki and H. Amano in Nagoya. In 1995, Alberto Barbieri at the Cardiff University Laboratory (GB) investigated the efficiency and reliability of high-brightness LEDs demonstrated a very impressive result by using a transparent contact made of indium tin oxide (ITO) on (AlGaInP/GaAs) LED. The existence of blue LEDs and high efficiency LEDs quickly led to the development of the first white LED, which employed a Y3Al5O12:Ce, or "YAG", phosphor coating to mix yellow (down-converted) light with blue to produce light that appears white. Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize for his invention. The development of LED technology has caused their efficiency and light output to increase exponentially, with a doubling occurring about every 36 months since the 1960s, in a similar way to Moore's law. The advances are generally attributed to the parallel development of other semiconductor technologies and advances in optics and material science. This trend is normally called Haitz's Law after Dr. Roland Haitz.

Typical indicator LEDs are designed to operate with no more than 30–60 milliwatts [mW] of electrical power. Around 1999, Philips Lumileds introduced power LEDs capable of continuous use at one watt [W]. These LEDs used much larger semiconductor die sizes to handle the large power inputs. Also, the semiconductor dies were mounted onto metal slugs to allow for heat removal from the LED die.

In September 2003, a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by the company Cree, Inc. to provide 24 mW at 20 milliamperes [mA]. This produced a commercially packaged white light giving 65 lm/W at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time, and more than four times as efficient as standard incandescents. In 2006 they demonstrated a prototype with a record white LED luminous efficiency of 131 lm/W at 20 mA. Also, Seoul Semiconductor has plans for 135 lm/W by 2007 and 145 lm/W by 2008, which would be approaching an order of magnitude improvement over standard incandescents and better even than standard fluorescents. Nichia Corporation has developed a white light LED with luminous efficiency of 150 lm/W at a forward current of 20 mA.

Cree issued a press release on November 19, 2008 about a laboratory prototype LED achieving 161 lumens/watt at room temperature. The total output was 173 lumens, and the correlated color temperature was reported to be 4689 K.

In the name of the future: Quantum Dot LEDs (experimental)

A new technique developed by Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, involves coating a blue LED with quantum dots that glow white in response to the blue light from the LED. This technique produces a warm, yellowish-white light similar to that produced by incandescent bulbs. Quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that possess unique optical properties. Their emission color can be tuned from the visible throughout the infrared spectrum. This allows quantum dot LEDs to create almost any color on the CIE diagram. This provides more color options and better color rendering white LEDs. Quantum dot LEDs are available in the same package types as traditional phosphor based LEDs.

    Advantages of using LEDs
  • Efficiency: LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs; this is useful in battery powered or energy-saving devices.
  • Colour: LEDs can emit light of an intended colour without the use of colour filters that traditional lighting methods require. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.
  • Size: LEDs can be very small (smaller than 2 mm2) and are easily populated onto printed circuit boards.
  • On/Off time: LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED will achieve full brightness in microseconds. LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.
  • Cycling: LEDs are ideal for use in applications that are subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike fluorescent lamps that burn out more quickly when cycled frequently, or HID lamps that require a long time before restarting.
  • Dimming: LEDs can very easily be dimmed either by Pulse-width modulation or lowering the forward current.
  • Cool light: In contrast to most light sources, LEDs radiate very little heat in the form of IR that can cause damage to sensitive objects or fabrics. Wasted energy is dispersed as heat through the base of the LED.
  • Slow failure: LEDs mostly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt burn-out of incandescent bulbs.
  • Lifetime: LEDs can have a relatively long useful life. One report estimates 35,000 to 50,000 hours of useful life, though time to complete failure may be longer. Fluorescent tubes typically are rated at about 10,000 to 15,000 hours, depending partly on the conditions of use, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000–2,000 hours.
  • Shock resistance: LEDs, being solid state components, are difficult to damage with external shock, unlike fluorescent and incandescent bulbs which are fragile.
  • Focus: The solid package of the LED can be designed to focus its light. Incandescent and fluorescent sources often require an external reflector to collect light and direct it in a usable manner.
  • Toxicity: LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike fluorescent lamps.