In regular microchips, work is performed via the movement of electrons within the chip. Thanks to the recent creation of the thinnest-ever LEDs, however, such chips may one day be able to use light instead of electrons, saving power and reducing heat. Of course, those LEDs could also just be used as a really flat form of lighting, in any number of applications.

Created at the University of Washington, the two-dimensional LEDs are just three atoms thick, yet they're still mechanically strong. Regular LEDs take a three-dimensional form, and as such are 10 to 20 times thicker.

They're made from flat sheets of the molecular semiconductor tungsten diselenide. Those sheets are themselves created via a process much like that in which graphene is produced by peeling layers of carbon off of pieces of graphite, using adhesive tape.

"These are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, yet the light they emit can be seen by standard measurement equipment," said graduate student Jason Ross. "This is a huge leap of miniaturization of technology, and because it’s a semiconductor, you can do almost everything with it that is possible with existing, three-dimensional silicon technologies."

Ross worked with materials scientist Xiaodong Xu. A paper on their research was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: University of Washington