Forget about building a better mousetrap — scientists at
the Department of Energy's Sandia Laboratories in New
Mexico are working with colleagues at Brown University to
develop a better light bulb — an ultraviolet,
vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser.
The technology is expected to save $100 billion a year in
energy costs worldwide, to reduce carbon emissions by about
350 million tons annually, and to take up less landfill
space. The lights are expected to last five to ten times
longer than fluorescents.
Less energy demand, of course, benefits the environment. As
Sandia spokesman Neal Singer explains, "A lot of our
arguments about power plants would be academic — you just
wouldn't build as many of them." The lights may also
inspire aesthetic creativity - the postage stamp-size chips
can be arranged almost anywhere near an electric outlet in
any conceivable pattern.
But before they get carried away with design, the
scientists at Sandia need to find a way to electrically
power the lasers - a crucial step that is one to two years
away. Right now, this technology is only a prototype, as
Singer says, "It's a toddler — hardly crawling yet — we
need to make it grow up."