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  • Writer's pictureManitoba Electrical Museum

What is OLED Technology and How Did It Come to be?

Today’s spotlight goes to the creators and some of the innovators of OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology. OLED is a type of light-emitting diode (LED), however the main difference is that the part of the OLED that creates light is made of thin layers of organic compounds. When an electric current is applied to an OLED, the layer that produces light becomes negatively charged while the conductive layer becomes positively charged. Electrostatic forces cause electrons to move from the positive conductive layer toward the negative emissive layer. This causes a change in the electrical levels and makes radiation that has a frequency in the range of visible light.

Patent of chemists Ching Wan Tang and Steven Van Slyke, September 3,1985.

OLED is not actually a new technology. In fact, the first practical OLED was pioneered by chemists Ching Wan Tang and Steven Van Slyke. Both were developing this technology for Eastman Kodak in the late 1970s and managed to get their patent approved in 1985. OLED technology was initially to help Kodak develop their digital camera. However, what many people didn’t know at that time was the vast impact it has in our world of screens today. OLED technology can be found in flat screens such as in monitors, TVs, and in our cell phones that provides an improved display quality. It certainly has evolved a lot to get to where we are today.

In 1997, Pioneer made a display for a car stereo that became the first OLED product commercialized. Shortly after entering the 21th century, it was when electronic companies like LG and Sony started to take note of OLED technology and its potential. Though it had potential, there were many problems that needed to be solved before it would become sellable and popular in the market. For one, the lifespan of OLED TVs was short. It was also very expensive to manufacture with an 11-inch screen averaging $2500 USD for people to buy in 2004. In the past decade and a half, many researchers have improved OLED technology. People like Vivian Wing-Wah Yam who’s work on light-emitting materials helped create the crisp images and thin screens that we have today.



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