Making OLEDs In The Kitchen Sink

When [Ian] first set out to create a homebrew OLED, he found chemical suppliers that wouldn’t take his money, manufacturers that wouldn’t talk to him, and researchers that would actively discourage him. Luckily for us, he powered through all these obstructions and created his own organic LED.

Since at least one conductor in an OLED must be transparent, [Ian] settled on ITO – indium tin oxide – for the anode. This clear coating is deposited on glass, allowing it to conduct electricity and you can buy it through a few interesting suppliers. For the cathode, [Ian] is using a gallium-indium-tin eutectic, an alloy with a very low melting point that allowed him to deposit a small puddle in his OLED stack.

With the anode and cathode taken care of, the only thing left was the actual LED. For this, [Ian] had some success with MEH-PPV, a polymer that is capable of electroluminescence. On top of this is a film of PEDOT:PPS, another polymer that serves to block electrons.

The resulting yellow-green blob of an OLED actually works, and is at least as good as some of the other homebrew semiconductor illumination projects we’ve seen around here. This is only a start, though, and [Ian] plans on putting a whole lot more time into his explorations of organic LEDs.


27 thoughts on “Making OLEDs In The Kitchen Sink

      1. Aluminum foil hat answer. I don’t really think there’s any competition to real research in this hack… If that was ever the goal, then he’s at least a decade behind the curve.

        “researchers would actively discourage him” is journalistic window dressing. In reality, they either didn’t care all that much or thought it was a waste of time and money.

        I think scientific experiments like this done out of the lab are pretty cool. No, it probably won’t change the world or give an edge to novel manufacturing. But IMO that’s never really the purpose of a hack.

        1. Okay, how about “Suppliers that wouldn’t take his money”?

          I didn’t know people were quick to turn down money, unless there was a good reason for it, such as having other investments…
          “Waste of time” seems like a poor reason to not sell a product.

          1. Most chemical distributors check for a company registered at the destination address and check the zoning of the destination address. It’s not about small quantities – research labs order in small quantities all the time.

          2. NileRed in some of his videos says that many chemical suppliers refuse to deliver small quantities of hazardous material to residential addresses.

            >I didn’t know people were quick to turn down money

            Episode 539 of Planet Money shows suppliers refusing to sell $0.01 worth of material to the camera because the cost of transaction isn’t worth the fractional cent of profit.

    1. It wasn’t that they wanted to stop me – I was cold-contacting more people than I was able to network with, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for any of them to come across as ignorant in their replies. Most of the researchers I cold-contacted who took the time to respond to me said one or more of the following:
      – That going to school was the only way to make the materials and equipment accessible.
      – That most devices fail and the effort is not rewarding (former untrue when developing processes, latter always untrue).
      – That I was wasting my time if I didn’t have a background in quantum physics and organic chemistry.

      These are generally true for the non self-taught. Being self-taught makes me more resourceful and less likely to give up when I reach a learning barrier.

      1. I want to see you develop a method to screen print a multi-pixel OLED display. Monochrome to start with, then RGB. Could be some patents in it or a buyout by one of the big TV/monitor manufacturers. Of course if a company offered to buy your techniques, you’d want some legal means of ensuring the company will actually use it instead of just buying it to bury it.

    2. Ivory Tower Syndrome. You run into it with people into rarefied pursuits. It is always bizarre, and I think hopeless to try to overcome too. I think it is a malfunction of the ego that causes it.

      1. It’s never a good idea to discourage someone from anything, but if you put yourself in their place, you might see it differently.

        For one, they aren’t doing things just to do it. They are doing things to advance the art. It doesn’t seem logical to them to make the same mistakes that were made 25 years ago.

        Second, these are people who have spent a long time developing this knowledge. It’s hard to distinguish the hard work they put in to literally discover these processes and techniques, from the work of someone standing on their shoulders.

        Third, they may not have understood that Ian simply wanted to make a green blob to understand the technology. Maybe they thought he was trying to make a 1000 dpi oled display. When someone is asking for your help, it’s natural to think they want to do what you’re doing.

        Anyway you slice it, calling it “a malfunction of the ego” is reductionist at best.

  1. Kichen sink? Look at the pictures. You need access to a well equipped laboratory to do this. There are some really nasty and unhealthy chemicals involved, and doing this in the kitchen would be downright stupid.

  2. Whenever you try to do any sort of interesting science in a home lab these days people actively discourage you. The safety police seem to have taken over. Things seem to have been getting worse for amateur science ever since the amateur scientist articles left Scientific American. It’s a real shame that the first response from many isn’t ‘That’s interesting, how are you planning on doing that?’ but more ‘You shouldn’t try that.’ and ‘That would be dangerous.’

    1. Funny you mention SciAm. I have a book here from 1960 called “the book of projects for the Scientific American”. I bought it in my early teens and it was one of those Hallelujah moments when I first opened it. A treasure trove like this will never get published again. But I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

  3. Still a lot of SciAm Amateur Scientist articles out there.. In my senior year in high-school (1966), I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that recognized my boredom, and set up a “special class” for me and two others, where we were allowed to do anything we wanted, as long as we wrote a paper on it when we were done. Projects ranged from the wintergreen lifesaver green-flash, to a helium-neon laser. The laser came straight from the Amateur Scientist ( and we actiually got it to lase. Shell Oil donated a oil-diffusion vacuum pump, and the Laser Labs at UC Berkeley gave us an afternoon at their facility and lots of advice. Taught ourselves lampwork to create the gas tube, and gas injection system and a lot of other stuff. Only a hundred mw gain but it worked. Learned more in that early class in “hacking” than all the college that followed. Lot’s of fails, but all rewarding.

    As Edison said….
    I haven’t failed… I know 10,000 ways that don’t work.

  4. If this dangerous to do in the kitchen then why are these “electroluminscent panel” diode-things called organic. It makes them look “green”, huh they are nasty chemicals? Which evidently peter-out with age, far worse than LED’s.

    1. I sure hope you are being sarcastic, but on the odd chance you are not:
      They are called organic because they use organic substances instead of inorganic crystals like normal LEDs. That has nothing to do with them being dangerous or not whatsoever.

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