Ohio Researcher Says Zinc Oxide's Future Bright -- as a Light Source
Nov. 8DAYTON, Ohio Researchers at Wright State University and Wright Patterson Air Force Base are investigating the amazing properties of a substance so common it is found in baby powder.
The chemical, zinc oxide, has the potential to transform technology the way silicon chips did two decades ago, according to David Look, a professor of physics at WSU.
"In powder form, zinc oxide has been used for years as a main ingredient in baby powder, but our research has shown an application for this chemical in crystal form as a source to emit light," said Look, who delivered the opening paper at a conference of over 70 scientists last month in Japan.
"Zinc oxide applications are a hot topic right now in the scientific community. It is exciting research."
Look predicts that artificial light will be replaced by zinc oxide, or a related chemical, gallium nitride, in the next 10 to 20 years.
The result would be light bulbs that can last for 100,000 hours, representing a power savings over tungsten light of $12 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
"The problem with the tungsten bulb is that it is ineffective," Look said.
"Most of its energy goes into heat, and they don't last that long. With a solid-state bulb more current goes into making light."
The research could also lead to faster computer chips, increased capacity on CD and DVD disks and improved quality of laser printers.
Zinc oxide illumination is already in use in traffic lights and high-priced cars, where the higher initial costs are not an impediment.
Researchers are also attempting to make zinc oxide light-emitting diodes.
"That work is just starting," Look said.
Zinc oxide has military and homeland security applications as well.
Look, who helped host one of the first international conferences on the subject at WSU in 1999, is working on a five-year, $8.5 million contract with funding from the Navy, Air Force, NASA and industry.
He is working with the Air Force on developing high quality, zinc oxide crystal transistors.
"These things will have an impact on our lives over the next five to 20 years," he said. "It is an amazing material."
Although the work being done at WSU and the Air Force Research Laboratory has put Dayton on the scientific map, there is a high level of activity worldwide.
"The Japanese lead the parade," Look said.
"I was at a conference in Buffalo and of the 70 papers delivered, 50 percent were from Japan and about 20 percent from the U.S. We are not leading the world, but we are very competitive."
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