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Originally published January 27 2007

Butterflies inspire new LED illumination technology

by M.T. Whitney

(NaturalNews) An ingenious method of efficiently emitting light has come from a unique inspiration: butterflies.

The science behind higher-emission light emitting diodes (LED) comes from the fluorescent patches found on the wings of the African swallowtail butterfly. LED technology has been around for decades, but this new method of LED manufacture allows the diode to shine brighter.

The realization for the new form of diode comes from the wing structure of the butterfly. African swallowtails are dark colored with small spots of bright blue or green on their wings. The wings have scales that act like photonic crystals that provide intense fluorescent light. The scales have mirrors under them to direct light. With the butterflies, pigment in their wings absorbs ultra-violet light and emits it as a bright blue-green shade. The butterflies use the scales to signal to each other.

For the LEDs, scientists at MIT used actual photonic crystals to get the same effect. A lattice design etched into the crystals, implanted in the upper levels of LED’s design, makes the light emitted shine brighter.

As previously reported on NaturalNews, LED technology has made advances to a point where LEDs could soon emit enough light to be considered an alternative to incandescent light bulbs. While LEDs are much more expensive, they also last a lot longer: approximately 100,000 hours. It also would save energy compared to conventional lighting.

LEDs date back to the 1950s, when an engineer at RCA observed that gallium arsenide emits an infrared light. The first infrared LED was developed soon afterward in 1961 by engineers at Texas Instruments, who accomplished this by electrifying gallium arsenide. A year later, the first visible-light LEDs appeared thanks to Nick Holonyak, Jr. of General Electric.

The most popular material for LEDs today is still gallium arsenide – which is used to make red and infrared LEDs – but gallium phosphide and gallium nitrite is used for other colors. LEDs are used for electronic signage, traffic lights and car taillights, among other uses.


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