LED's and Light
Country: United States
Date: March 2006
First off I'm not sure if this should have been a
question asked in the computer section but here it goes. I know
that light bulbs produce light via heat. Tungsten filament, argon
gas environment so it does not ignite. Seems simple enough.
LEDs (light emitting diodes) give off light via an aluminum gallium
arsenide semi-conductor (I think). However, how exactly is
electrical current turned into light in LEDs? According to me
physics and chemistry teachers there is little to no heat given off,
and technically the light is not being "converted" to light. I am
not sure what they mean exactly. So how does an LED produce light?
And why do they never burn out? (unless of course you exceed the 50 mA limit).
What your teachers mean by "no heat given off" is that LED's do not *radiate*
infrared light, as light bulbs do. LED's do give off heat. In fact, most
of the energy that goes into an led comes out as heat. Less than 20% is
converted to light.
LED's give off light when electrons drop from a high energy state to a low
energy state. The material in which this occurs has a junction
between two kinds of semiconductors, each of which permits electrons
to have only
specific amounts of potential energy, and the energies permitted in the two
materials are different. When electrons move from one material to the other,
they are no longer permitted to have the energy they had in the
so they drop down to a lower energy state that is permitted, and the energy
difference is emitted as a photon.
LED's do burn out, though not in the same way light bulbs do. The heat
produced gradually changes the properties of the semiconducting material.
This reduces the light output. Many commonly available white-light LED's
go dim in just a few months of continuous use. Low-power LED's, and some
high-power LED's with carefully engineered paths by which heat can be
extracted from the semiconductor material, last much longer.
A detailed explanation of "How do LED's work? is too long for a
forum like NEWTON. The most basic principle is that electrons are
driven from a state of high energy to a state of low energy in a
semiconductor diode. The energy gap between the two states falls
in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum and the
energy is released as a photon of light. However, I do not think
this is really very helpful, so I recommend (and did) a search on
the terms: "How LED's work?" and "light emitting diodes". Of many
I got the following two "hits":
Although the latter is not 'peer reviewed' -- anyone can contribute --
it is kind of a "living" encyclopedia, but it usually is self
correcting. These sites provide sufficient detail so that you can
understand LED's at any depth you choose to pursue the question.
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Update: June 2012