Shedding Light on OLEDS: Phelan's Research Makes Journal Cover Story
FOR ANYONE WHO, on a sunny day, has tried to read a laptop monitor or struggled to read the dashboard clock with the headlights on, there is some exciting high-tech news. A recent issue of Synthetic Metals features a cover story by Seattle Pacific University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Greg Phelan. In the article, he discusses ways to manipulate light, especially ultraviolet light, in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).
Phelan, who has taught full-time at SPU since last September, used research from his doctoral dissertation to create an OLED that contains europium metal in an organic complex. Phelan can easily draw a diagram of what this complex looks like, but it's hard to put into layman's terms.
"Basically," he says, "you collect energy at one wavelength, which is ultraviolet light, and put it in a more usable form, which in this case is red light." Since it's been difficult to get a pure red emitting organic compound without contamination of other colors of light, the chemistry world is sitting up and taking notice of Phelan's research.
Why is this exciting?
In the near future, if these optimized europium complexes are used in OLEDs, mobile phone readouts will glow brighter, even in bright sunlight. Color TV screens and monitors (OLED displays that contain only red, blue and green) will show a much brighter red. Since the brightness of these complexes is sensitive to temperature, someday airplane wings might even display an OLED thermometer reading in red, letting mechanics know when it's time to de-ice.
In addition to his research, consider what else Phelan likes to do: "I take SPU students on field trips to inner-city elementary schools in Seattle. We let the kids do science experiments, like making ‘goo' from Elmer's glue, Borax soap, water and food coloring. Everything goes into a plastic zip-lock bag, and it changes from a liquid to solid, like Silly String."
Phelan says that with field trips and lab work, SPU students are offered the same kinds of research tools that helped him in his study of OLEDs. In what is called "inquiry-based education," science students are given a puzzle to solve and the tools to solve it.
This works in biology classes, as well. As Biology Professor Bruce Congdon says, "It's like showing students a finished cake, giving them ingredients, but no recipe, and letting them figure out how to make it. This lets them figure out not only how to make a cake, but also what makes a cake a cake. Inquiry-based thinking is becoming prevalent in science everywhere."
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