University of Washington scientists have developed a three-atom thick LED that can be used in electronic devices, potentially saving power loss through heat. The new LEDs are ten to twenty times thinner than conventional LEDs used in consumer products. Xiaodong Xu, a UW assistant professor in materials science and engineering and in physics, and grad student Jason Ross reported their findings in an online paper in Nature Nanotechnology on March 9.

The UW’s LED is made from flat sheets of the molecular semiconductor known as tungsten diselenide, a member of a group of two-dimensional materials that have been recently identified as the thinnest-known semiconductors.

In addition to light-emitting applications, this technology could use light as interconnects to run nano-scale computer chips instead of standard devices that operate off the movement of electrons, or electricity.

“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,” Ross said. “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.”