One thousand LEDs on a pinhead

Impact: Impact - for External PortalEconomic and commerce


How many tiny light sources do you think you can fit on a pin head? Given that it’s an incredibly small area, probably no more than one millimeter across, does ‘no more than 10’ sound possible? Or perhaps ‘100 if you know the tricks of the trade’? The answer to this intriguing question is in fact over 1000.

Thanks to EPSRC funding, researchers within Martin Dawson’s group at the Institute of Photonics, University of Strathclyde, are experts in producing arrays of tiny light sources. Each element in these arrays is known as a microLED and Dawson’s team can readily manufacture a 64x64 array (that’s over 4000 individual light emitters) of microLEDs covering an area of less than two square millimeters.

Now, having received Pathways to Impact funding from the EPSRC, the group has been able to develop improved electronic circuitry to drive the microLED arrays as well as a new graphical user interface to make the technology accessible to a wider range of researchers in academia and industry.

“Our new driver boards allow you to directly address any combination of individual LEDs at once, so the array could display words, video or specific patterns for example,” explained Simon Andrews, Business Development Manager at the Institute of Photonics. “Our new Windows-based interface makes it easier to use the array and researchers can plan and produce light where and when they want it.”

The hope is that these key improvements will have a big impact not only in terms of general academic advancement for the Institute and University as a whole but will also generate wealth through future commercialization.

“We hope to foster further cross-disciplinary collaborations now that the arrays are easier to interact with,” commented Andrews. “Our partners do not need to be specialists when it comes to technology. They can apply their expertise instead of trying to work out how to use the light emitting array.”

Encouraged by a large number of commercial enquires prior to the Pathways to Impact award, the Institute launched a company called mLED Ltd in 2010 to pursue commercial application of the technology. The new driver boards and interface software may in turn also benefit mLEDs customers.

An added bonus arising from these new levels of flexibility is that some of the Pathways to Impact funding will be used to permanently house an array of microLEDs at the Glasgow Science Centre which will help to raise the public awareness of university research.
“This is going to be a fabulous hands-on and interactive exhibit,” said Andrews. “The new driver boards and user interface mean that people can write their name and see it on the array by looking through a microscope. We’re offering people the thrill of seeing their name in lights.”
Impact statusOpen
Category of impactEconomic and commerce