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Greenlight Optics
The Development of LEDs and Where They are Today
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

You’ve heard about switching your incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs. As Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), switching may become a reality more quickly than you think. Almost commomplace now, LEDs weren’t as widespread in lamps across the U.S. decades ago as they are today. And with stating that in 2012, about 49 million LEDs were installed in the U.S. alone, it’s safe to say these bulbs are pretty widespread. But how did they come to be? The development of the light-emitting diode is an interesting tale.

Before there were light-emitting diode bulbs, there had to be light-emitting diodes. While there are many factors that contribute to how the bulbs came to be, let’s start in 1927, when a Russian inventor, Oleg Losev reportedly created the first LED. This became widespread news in the scientific community, and was even listed in Russian, German and British scientific journals. Though this was a breakthrough, nothing was done with this invention for decades.

Skip a few decades and in the 1950s, scientists discovered infrared emission from gallium arsenide. How is this prevalent to LEDs? Well, gallium became an important component for all LEDs. Gallium, in combination with other elements, comprise the semiconductor material in LEDs and thus determine the color of the LED. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, ultraviolet and infrared all have gallium combined with one or more elements to make up the semiconductor material used in an LED. The only colors currently that don’t use gallium in some form as the semiconductor material are purple, pink and white. These colors use a phosphor of some sort for the semiconductor. This difference isn’t bad; the function of phosphors in a light-emitting diode is used to help filter the light output. Many people describe LED bulbs that use phosphors as more of a “harsh,” pure color than the bulbs that use a gallium semiconductor. But before all these color options were available for LED bulbs, more developments had to occur and discoveries had to be made.

The first visible-spectrum LED is on record in the year 1962. Nick Holonyak Jr. invented the device while working for General Electric Co.  Holonyak’s spectrum was a red spectrum. Since those 50-some years ago, the technology surrounding LEDs has developed and changed greatly. From Holonyak’s spectrum, a former graduate student of his, M. George Craford, was able to improve the brightness on red and red-orange light-emitting diodes by a factor of 10 in 1972. Craford also invented the first yellow LED. Though there is now a whole rainbow of colors available for LED bulbs, it wasn’t until 1994 that a blue LED was developed. Shuji Nakamura of the Nichia Corporation in Japan developed the first bright blue LED. Nakamura’s light-emitting diode had a semi conductor of indium gallium nitrate.

Now that we’re well into the 21st century, and with the many promotions of LEDs for commercial use over the years, the technology has caused the output of LEDs to rise. And that’s for a good reason! Current LED bulbs require little to no time to warm up; they switch on at their full brightness. Plus, they contain no mercury, making these a more eco-friendly lighting option than their predecessors. Wherever you use LEDs — whether it is your home, the office or elsewhere — your electric bill will thank you: Light-emitting diode bulbs reportedly use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs do. With light emitted as a narrower beam than other light sources, LED bulbs are good for use both in your home for lamps or for specific purposes, such as for a light show or as lights to display artwork. Finally, you won’t have to rush out to the store every time a bulb burns out; LED bulbs have life spans of tens of thousands of hours, which means they can last for decades before they burn out.

Switching from incandescent bulbs to LEDs doesn’t have to be a strenuous process. LED bulbs are available in countless hardware stores across the country. Plus, there are a large variety of colors available to suit whatever you need. Though these bulbs are becoming more of a typical lighting choice for people, the bulbs had a humble beginning.


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