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Fireflies light path towards efficient OLEDs

Posted: 25 Apr 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:KAIST  OLED  firefly  bioluminescent light  illumination 

A team of researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has replicated the patterns of a firefly's light-emitting cuticle to create a bioinspired OLED that boasts a 60 per cent increase in the light extraction efficiency. According to them, the demonstration reveals a 15 per cent wider angle of illumination that could pave the way for next-generation OLED design.

The research findings have been published in a paper on the firefly-inspired OLEDs in Nano Letters.

Many insects, birds, fish and amphibians emit light as a way to communicate with each other, but the species that produces light most efficiently is the firefly.

Firefly-inspired OLED

Figure 1: KAIST researchers replicated the patterns of a firefly's light-emitting cuticle to create a bioinspired OLED that achieves a 60 per cent increase in the light extraction efficiency.

"This work reports the first observation of hierarchical structures, i.e., inclined microstructures with nanostructures existing on the cuticular ultrastructures of a firefly's lantern," said Jeong. "Based on our large-scale photonic calculation, it was clearly revealed that the function of asymmetric and hierarchical structures substantially contributes to the efficient extraction and wide angular illumination of bioluminescent light that would otherwise be entrapped in the firefly lantern. The knowledge learned from firefly lanterns has been successfully utilized for next-generation OLEDs."

Bioinspired OLED

Figure 2: Firefly-inspired OLED

The work builds on previous research (some by the same authors) that has shown that firefly cuticles have nanostructures that improve light transmission. The cuticles also have tiny structures that increase light extraction (the amount of light that actually exits the animal) by reducing internal reflection. The problem of internal reflection is one of the biggest challenges facing LEDs, where often more than half of the light produced is reflected back into the device rather than being emitted. Scientists have already mimicked these nano- and microstructures in LED design to improve light transmission and extraction.

In the study, the researchers discovered that the asymmetric and hierarchical nature of the cuticle structures also plays a key role in the firefly's light-emitting ability. The researchers created precise moulds of these structures to use as the optical layer of an OLED. Consequently, the same features that help fireflies communicate their courtship signals have turned out to also contribute to improving advanced lighting and display applications.

"Our breakthrough technology is the large-scale fabrication of inclined microstructures and highly ordered nanostructures on each inclined microstructure," Jeong said. "We strongly believe that these biologically inspired OLEDs open a new paradigm for engineering biomimetics for lighting applications."

The firefly light may become a commercial reality in the near future.

"We are looking for an industrial OLED partner who is interested in commercialising our novel idea, and we will also continue to work on biologically inspired photonics for engineering applications," added Jeong.

- Paul Buckley
  EE Times Europe

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