Scientists at the University of Washington have built a new LED  that is considered the thinnest that has ever been made.

uwled3atom Worlds thinnest LED is only a few atoms thick

Efficiency is the primary advantage of LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They are usually either very small or very thin, and throughout the years, have been developed to produce a strong, adequately bright light despite using only a very small amount of energy.

But here’s the catch: despite using LEDs for many years already, we’re still yet to optimize the full potential of this technology. That has been well proven by the scientists at the University of Washington, who have just recently announced their development of a new LED that is only three atoms thick. That’s right; their new LED is so thin, you might not even notice that it’s an electronic component at all if not made into a sufficiently large sheet.

The LED was designed as a flat, two-dimensional electronic component. It is made of a flexible semiconductor material, a molecular sheet of tungsten diselenide, which is known to be potentially the thinnest material that can be used as a semiconductor. For comparison, some of the smallest LEDs that are used in consumer electronics are still about ten to twenty times larger and thicker than the one developed at the University of Washington. This means that the new LEDs are thousands of times thinner than the average human hair.

Further miniaturization of electronic circuits is perhaps the most obvious benefit of their new LED. However, more than just shrinking the size of our mobile devices and laser pointers further, the method of delivering energy and digital information in general could well be changed forever using these tiny LEDs. One suggestion that the scientists have proposed is to shift from electronics to optics with these tiny LEDs, using light instead of electricity (which still has a limited efficiency due to waste heat) to process digital information. Other possible applications in nanotechnology are also currently being considered.

Interestingly, the inspiration for the fabrication method of their three-atom thick LED came from the same revolutionary, yet very simple method that was used to extract graphene (one-atom thick sheets of carbon): by separating individual atomic sheets using an adhesive tape.

Source: University of Washington