Powerful LED light can kill bacteria and viruses without harming people

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dated: 2022-11-20 06:38:36 .

[Nov. 19, 2022: Masafumi Jo, Riken]

Most LEDs emit visible light, but RIKEN physicists have developed an LED that emits in a narrow range of far ultraviolet, which is harmless to humans but deadly to viruses and bacteria. (PHOTO: Creative Commons)

A highly efficient LED, deadly to microbes and viruses but safe to humans, was developed by three RIKEN physicists. One day it could help countries emerge from the shadow of pandemics by killing pathogens in rooms full of people.

Ultraviolet germicidal lamps are extremely effective in killing bacteria and viruses and are routinely used in hospitals to sterilize surfaces and medical instruments.

Such lamps can be made with LEDs, which makes them energy efficient. However, these LEDs use ultraviolet light in the DNA-damaging range, so they cannot be used near humans. The search is on for efficient LEDs that emit a narrow band of far-ultraviolet light that appears to be good for disinfection and safe for humans.

Germicidal LED lamps that work in the absence of people are often made of aluminum, gallium and nitrogen. By increasing the aluminum content, these LEDs can be modified to operate in a wavelength range that is harmless to humans. But traditionally this has dramatically reduced their power.

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To get around this, Masafumi Jo, Yuri Itokazu and Hideki Hirayama, all at the RIKEN Quantum Optodevice Laboratory, created an LED with a more complex design. They placed several layers together, each containing slightly different percentages of aluminum, while in some layers they also added small amounts of silicon or magnesium.

This effectively created an obstacle course for the electrons, impeding their movement through the material and keeping them in certain areas for longer. This in turn increased the amount of light emitted by the device and decreased the amount of light absorbed.

To determine the best design, the team used computer simulations to model all possible effects. “We then cultured the samples to see if it was effective or not,” says Jo. The main experimental challenge was to precisely control the thickness of each layer.

Masafumi Jo (CREDIT: RIKEN)

They created an LED that works in the far ultraviolet region and has an output power almost ten times higher than the previous one.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed awareness of the importance of being able to destroy viruses and microbes on surfaces. “We believe that our insights and technology will be very useful in protecting society from this and future pandemics,” says Jo.

Most LEDs emit visible light, but RIKEN physicists have developed an LED that emits in a narrow range of far ultraviolet, which is harmless to humans but deadly to viruses and bacteria. (PHOTO CREDIT: GIPHOTOSTOCK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

Jo adds that the trio will strive to further improve the performance of their LEDs. “There is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of power output and energy efficiency,” he notes.

Their study was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

For more science and technology stories, check out our New Discoveries section at The brighter side of the news.

Note: Above materials provided by Riken. Content can be edited for style and length.

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