Illuminate Yourself! The Science of Glow

Michael Walter, Associate Professor of Chemistry, UNC Charlotte

They are everywhere – they glow in the dark and we see them. From your smart phone screens to the light from fireflies on a summer night, to jellyfish deep in the ocean, these molecular light bulbs glow brightly. Nature uses them for communication while humans are using them to change our world. OLED TVs are thinner than a piece of paper and printed on screens using inkjet printers and fluorescent molecules similar to the bright molecules found in nature. Doctors are using green fluorescent protein for drug discovery and an aid to understand biochemical processes. These same molecules can be found in plastic solar cells, new printable electrical circuits, and soon will be found in every digital screen used in phones, laptops, and TVs. They are inexpensive molecules made up only the elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen with no heavy or toxic metals needed. However, there still remain many questions about the impact of all these glowing screens, medical dyes, and biological sensors on our health and environment. In this seminar, Fellows will create their own molecular fluorescent dye and use it in a real light emitting diode, and learn how scientists are making more efficient molecular light bulbs. We’ll explore the impact of all these fluorescent “glowing” materials on communication, medical discoveries, cancer treatments, neurobiology, digital displays, and solar energy conversion and also learn how university researchers are using the same fluorescent molecules that are being applied for new OLED TVs to further discoveries in neuroscience, all by using newly discovered molecules that really glow!