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The LED's Dark Secret
September 1, 2009

At first glance, the light-emitting diode, or LED, beats the venerable incandescent bulb in every way. It’s compact, bright, long-lasting, and in its latest form it can produce a warm, white light. Best of all, it saves more than enough money on electricity to cover the extra cost.

But the LED is bedeviled by a problem known as droop, which kicks in just as the power levels begin to get high enough for general lighting. At that point, the efficient device turns wasteful, and to get a little more light you have to put in a lot more power, kissing the extra efficiency good-bye. Nobody can yet explain droop, at least in a way that everyone else accepts.

In a recent issue of IEEE Spectrum, Richard Stevenson, a Wales-based physicist turned science writer, reviews the theories on droop and describes how scientists are finding ways to mitigate the problem, even without fully understanding it.

Hardly a month goes by without new developments in this technology, which is critical to the multibillion-dollar lighting industry.

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