By adding fluorescent dyes to DNA and then spinning the DNA strands into nanofibers, researchers at the University of Connecticut have made a new material that emits bright white light. The material absorbs energy from ultraviolet light and gives off different colors of light–from blue to orange to white–depending on the proportions of dye it contains.
The researchers, led by chemistry professor Gregory Sotzing, create white-light-emitting devices by coating ultraviolet (UV) light-emitting diodes (LEDs) with the material. They are even able to fine-tune the white color tone to make it warm or cold, as they report in a paper published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
The new material could be used to make a novel type of organic light bulb. The light emitters should also be longer-lasting because DNA is a very strong polymer, Sotzing says. “It’s well beyond other polymers [in strength],” he notes, adding that it lasts 50 times longer than acrylic.
The color-tunable DNA material relies on an energy-transfer mechanism between two different fluorescent dyes. The key is to keep the dye molecules separated at a distance of 2 to 10 nanometers from each other. When UV light is shined on the material, one dye absorbs the energy and produces blue light. If the other dye molecule is at the right distance, it will absorb part of that blue-light energy and emit orange light.