Engineers Create Nanoscale Incandescent Light Source

Gururaj Naik of Rice’s Brown School of Engineering and graduate student Chloe Doiron have developed the smallest incandescent lightbulb using a collection of near-nanoscale materials that absorb heat and emit light.

The system relies on non-Hermitian physics, a quantum mechanical way to describe “open” systems that dissipate energy—in this case, heat—rather than retain it. This new strategy uses many elements whose interaction can be tuned. One element may give brightness; the next element could be used to provide wavelength (light color) specificity.

Thermal light emitters may play an important part in next-level computing. It is well known that semiconductor technology is reaching saturation and we will need a replacement for silicon transistors. The International Roadmap for Semiconductor Technology (ITRS) believes optical switches will be that replacement, as the switch has to be unidirectional. It has to send light in the direction we want, and none comes back, like a diode for light instead of electricity.