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Building a better bulb: New faculty member brings NSF-funded research to Mizzou

September 01, 2022

top of white light bulb

Assistant Professor Peifen Zhu is on a quest to build a better light bulb, and now, she’s looking for Mizzou Engineering students who want to help.

Zhu is a new faculty member in electrical engineering and computer science. She brings to Mizzou research around development of safer, more energy efficient lights, work that is supported with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation.

Peifen Zhu

Peifen Zhu

“For my research, I am developing materials for lighting technology that has a lot of advantages over conventional lighting technology,” she said. “The two main technologies now are incandescent light bulbs, which are not efficient because they use heat to generate light, and florescent tubing, which is efficient but uses mercury, which causes other environmental issues.”

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are preferable lighting options, as they are about 75% more efficient than old-fashioned bulbs. However, they are pricy and tend to cast a harsh blue light that consumers aren’t crazy about.

Zhu is seeking both undergraduate and graduate students to help build on her research, which was recently featured on the cover of Advanced Materials Interfaces. In the paper, Zhu and collaborators laid out different composite materials to develop white LEDs that would provide superior color quality without relying on lead.

“Lead-based halide perovskite is the most efficient material, but lead is toxic, so we don’t want it inside our devices,” she said. “However, it’s very hard to replace lead. We’re using a special material, nickel thiocyanate, to replace lead up to 50%. We want to reduce lead by 100%.”

Zhu is also considering how best to manufacture new lighting technology to make new devices more affordable.

“For lighting, it’s very efficient and environmentally friendly, but right now the production cost is high because it’s still in its initial stage,” she said. “Therefore, we’re looking for new materials but also making them low cost to manufacture.”

In addition to lighting and optoelectronic materials and devices, Zhu’s technical focus areas are clean energy and electronic/photonic materials.

Students interested in helping her develop energy-efficient, environmentally friendly light sources may contact Zhu here.