What if we could control individual atoms, store information on them, light them up in different colors, and use them to light up our homes or even our mobiles? This is what quantum dots, light-emitting nanoparticles, are now allowing us to do.
These particles are made of semi-conductor materials like cadmium and zinc. When stimulated using an external source of energy, such as UV rays, they glow, producing light. The size of a quantum dot determines the color of light that is emitted from it—larger sized quantum dots produce more red, while the smallest emit a blue light.
A quantum dot is really tiny. Each one measures between 2 to 10 nanometers in diameter— that’s nearly 10,000 times narrower than a strand of human hair. Nearly 3 million quantum dots, 10 nanometers in diameter, lined up end-to-end would just fit the width of a human thumb.
However, they are extremely versatile and can be used across industries such as electronic displays, sustainable energy, lighting, and even healthcare—in applications that require the absorption or emission of light and electric charge. They require only small amounts of energy in order to be excited, reducing the costs of application dramatically. This coupled with the versatility of the technology indicates its widening scope—a fact backed by research that suggests that the quantum dots market is expected to grow to $3.4 billion by 2020, at a CAGR of 71% from 2014 to 2020.
One of the largest users of the technology currently, is the electronic display market. Quantum dots are being built into next-generation TV, tablet, and smartphone displays—making these display screens far more energy-efficient than traditional backlit ones. They are also enabling enhanced and brighter images as well as improved color purity.
Where quantum dots also show enormous potential is in the Optoelectronics or lighting products industry. Conventional light bulbs last about 500 hours and lose most of their energy as excess heat. Newer, energy-saving CFL bulbs have an extended life of 3000 hours. Quantum dot LEDs, however, can stay functional for between 25,000 to 50,000 hours—close to 20 years at typical domestic usage rates—providing extremely energy-efficient lighting.
Other than its domestic uses, quantum dot LEDs could prove to be extremely beneficial in public or outdoor lighting—traffic lights, street lights, billboards—where longevity and accessibility are key influencers, other than cost. Research suggests that lighting applications are likely to dominate the quantum dots market, with expected revenues upwards of $2.4bn by 2020.
Quantum dots also see tremendous potential in the healthcare industry—in bio-diagnostics, bio-imaging and illuminated surgical procedures. The brightness and photo stability of quantum dots means that they can be used in fluorescent tagging and live-cell imaging. The technology is also being put to use in image-guided surgical procedures to identify specific tissue types, as well as in cancer treatment.
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