Reported June 2007
ST. LOUIS (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Imagine setting up your camping tent, plugging it into a battery and viola, the inside of your tent lights up. The best part is there are no heavy bulbs to break or carry because the fabric itself gives off the light.
Todd Oswald loves the camping life. He works hard all week and hits the campgrounds on weekends with the family. "It's a time for us to get away from the hustle and bustle," Oswald says. Camping for him could soon be lighter, thanks to electroluminescent, or EL, technology that gives off light from an electrical charge.
Materials research scientists have made EL technology flexible enough to be woven into tent panels. Once the tent is plugged-in to A/C or battery power, the charge releases molecules inside the panel creating light! Eric Bruton, Ph.D., a scientist in St. Louis, explains the system, "What we do is we generate an electric field across the phosphor, which causes the phosphor to emit light."
The military is funding the research hoping to get rid of heavy, breakable bulbs and speed up troop logistics. Workers here use a relatively inexpensive screen-printing process. Patrick Kinlen, Ph.D., the Chief Technology Officer at Crosslink in St. Louis, says, "What we do is build a multi-layer structure that emits light when we apply a voltage."
Once plugged in, the panels give off white light so you can see. The fabric is also crushable and bendable, making it easy to pack up and making it "light" on your load. Oswald thinks it will be a very good thing. He says, "As a backpacker, you're always trying to look for anything that's going to help you lighten your load."
In addition to giving off visible light, the tents can be made to produce infrared light which means that soldiers can use night vision goggles to work inside their tents without giving away their position. The future for this technology includes light-up panels on safety vests for highway workers and joggers, as well as bicycle helmets.
The of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and the Materials Research Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Steve Welker, General Manager
St. Louis, MO
For more information on innovative materials and electronic fabrics:
Materials Research Society
Warrendale, PA 15086-7573
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. IEEE-USA
Washington, DC 20036-5104
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