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A Bright Idea


By Melissa Abraham

Published Apr 1, 2008 8:00 AM

Plasma TV watchers will soon see sports — and any other small-screen programming — in the brightest, most beautiful color possible. Even better, they'll be able to watch these amped images for a lot less money than they do now. And it's because of the shared obsession of two researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Most people don't think much about what's behind their TV screens, about the inner workings of LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, which illuminate today's plasma TV screens and cell phones. But Materials Science Professor Yang Yang and researcher Jinsong Huang Ph.D. '07 do. In fact, they're on a mission to deliver must-see TV picture quality to a grateful nation.

LEDs are generally measured in lumens per watt. Lumens, a measure of the perceived power of light, and watts, a standard measure of power, combine to define the optical efficiency of power — in other words, how bright a device is and how much power it consumes. Yang and Huang's newest device recently achieved the highest lumens per watt ever recorded for a red phosphorescent LED using a new combination of plastic, or polymer, infused liquid — and they did it at half the current cost.

What does that mean in layperson talk? "Visually, it means you get a higher quality display, and the product is lighter and thinner," says Huang. "With our improvements, you need less energy, but you get an all-around better product."

Liquid crystal display televisions, for example, require polarization, color filters and other components to make the resulting picture clear and bright enough to meet today's standards. The more you build into a product, explains Yang, the more energy it takes to run, and the more space it takes up in your living room. But the intrepid Bruin scientist's new LED — or more precisely, PLED — uses a polymer powder and liquid mixture added to a previously top-secret material developed by Canon to create a paint-like product. This "paint" is used to coat a layer of glass, and a charge is added. The end result is a slim, single layer.

"This is a much more elegant answer to creating a better LED product," says Yang. More elegant is good. Less expensive is even better. And Yang predicts the fruits of their labors will start showing up inside TVs and on store shelves within three years.