by David F. Salisbury
A team of Vanderbilt chemists whose work could make the light bulb passé and cut electricity consumption by half are among the recipients of Popular Mechanics magazine’s 2006 Breakthrough Awards.
The awards, which were announced in the November issue of the magazine, are intended to recognize individuals, teams and products that are helping to improve lives and expand possibilities in the realms of science, technology and exploration. “To receive a Breakthrough Award, an advance has to solve problems, expand horizons or engage the imagination of millions – it really has to matter. This year’s winners do this and more,” said James Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics.
Vanderbilt Associate Professor of Chemistry Sandra Rosenthal was honored, along with chemistry graduate students Michael Bowers and James McBride, for the discovery of a new way to make solid-state lights that produce white light.
Widespread adoption of solid-state lights, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), could reduce by half lighting electricity consumption, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 258 million metric tons per year. Today, LEDs are found in accent lighting and flashlights, but they’re not white enough for general use. Rosenthal’s group accidentally discovered that microscopic semiconductor crystals, called quantum dots, can absorb the blue light produced by LEDs and emit a warm white light. If the researchers can figure out how to get the quantum dots to produce white light more efficiently, then quantum dot-coated LEDs could replace light bulbs.
The award ceremony was held in New York in October. The recipients received a sculptured aluminum trophy. Descriptions of the award winners and photos of the ceremony are available at www.popularmechanics.com/science/research/4199165.html.
For more information about Rosenthal and her team’s quantum dot discovery, visit www.vanderbilt.edu/exploration/stories/breakthrough.html.