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Vanderbilt chemists receive Popular Mechanics‘ 2006 Breakthrough Award

Nov. 21, 2006, 2:55 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A team of Vanderbilt chemists whose work could make the light bulb passé and cut electricity consumption by half are among the recipients of Popular Mechanics magazine‘s 2006 Breakthrough Awards.

The awards, which are announced in the November issue of the magazine, are intended to recognize individuals, teams and products that help improve lives and expand possibilities in the realms of science, technology and exploration. “To receive a Breakthrough Award, an advance has to solve problems, expand horizons or engage the imagination of millions – it really has to matter. This year‘s winners do this and more,” said James Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Sandra Rosenthal was honored with chemistry graduate students Michael Bowers and James McBride for the discovery of a new way to make solid-state lights that produce white light. Widespread adoption of solid-state lights, like light-emitting diodes (LEDs), could halve lighting electricity consumption, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 258 million metric tons per year.

Today, LEDs are found in accent lighting and flashlights, but they‘re not white enough for general use. Rosenthal‘s group accidentally discovered that microscopic semiconductor crystals, called quantum dots, can absorb the blue light produced by LEDs and emit a warm white light. If the researchers can figure out how to get the quantum dots to produce white light more efficiently, then quantum-dot-coated LEDs could replace light bulbs.

The award ceremony was held in New York on Oct. 4. The recipients received a sculptured aluminum trophy. Description of the award winners and photos of the ceremony are published on Popular Mechanics‘ website at

Contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803