Intelligent Machines

The Beach Yields a Bright Idea

Fluorescent lighting is the bane of many office workers’ existence. But that isn’t the only drawback of this form of illumination. The “phosphors” in a fluorescent light (the compounds that actually produce the visible radiation) typically contain such toxic metals as cadmium, silver, europium and lead. A California chemist has synthesized a surprising new compound made of the same elements found in beach sand (including a trace of driftwood) that might provide the basis for more environmentally benign phos-phors. And now a Tokyo-based company, C.I. Kasei, sees a bright commercial future for this intriguing new luminescent material.

Materials chemist Michael Sailor of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), discovered last year that when he reacted carbon with a combination of silicon and oxygen (the elements in sand), the result was luminescent. “The carbon is behaving like metals do in the conventional phosphors, and that’s the surprising part,” says Sailor.

In recent work, Sailor has turned up the light-emitting properties of his compounds by adding a sprinkle of aluminum. Phosphors with the added aluminum provide illumination comparable to conventional fluorescents, Sailor told TR. He thinks the new compound also could be used in computer screen displays and wristwatches.

This story is part of our September/October 1998 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Some of these applications might be put to the test soon. C.I. Kasei has signed a deal with UCSD that allows the company to further develop the material.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.