Making OLEDs – a post-mortem of my first attempt

Some years ago, I set out to make my own OLEDs. This took a lot of persistence as many materials providers, manufacturers, and researchers refused to work with me, some of them providing their own brand of discouraging words along the way. Luckily, I was able to find several companies and people researching and working in the field who were very helpful.

Anatomy of an OLED
I was able to successfully make several differently-colored devices of varying quality level. In some cases I used indium as a cathode. Here’s what the successful stack I chose looks like:OLED Stack

ITO stands for indium-tin oxide. It is an oxide that results from sputtering from an indium-tin target – usually onto glass, making a piece of glass that is conductive, and yet still transparent. ITO glass is used in most modern display technologies, including both displays and the digitizers that overlay them.

The ITO at the top of the stack in this diagram is simply used as a sheet of glass to help seal off the device while allowing an electrical connection to the gan eutectic below it.

The gallium-indium-tin eutectic is used because material deposition equipment is expensive, so something that can easily be deposited at low heat must be used. In addition, when the cathode material is in immediate interface to a layer in which electron charge is to be favored (such as the emissive layer), the work function of the cathode is very important. It must have a lowered conductivity such that it favors electron injection in the interfacing layer. The combined eutectic has both of these properties. It oxidizes easily and can be a little messy, but is relatively easy to work with. Indium can be used instead, as it has a low melting point, but its work function is a little higher, which makes devices not as bright as less electron injection means there is not enough of the recombination in the stack happening in the emissive layer. In addition, it has a melting point of 156.6°C, which I’ve found can hurt the rest of the stack beneath the indium cathode. The eutectic is liquid at −19 °C which is WELL below room temperature, so no heat is required.

I had varying levels of success with several different emissive materials – apart from Alq3 (which didn’t dissolve well in Toluene), I was able to light them all up.

On the other side of the emissive layer is the PEDOT:PSS layer. It services as a hole-only layer, blocking electrons, once again forcing more recombination to happen at the interfacing layer. The layers above and below an emitter are often made up of hole blocking/electron transport layers (which are inversely, electron transport/hole blocking layers), working together to ensure that the electron injection happens inside the emitter where radiative recombination is most desired.

Then the anode layer is another simple piece of ITO glass through which the light is emitted, completing the stack.

Any number of transport/blocking layers and emitters can be found in use in one stack. There are white OLEDs, that, for example, have red, green, and blue emitters in the stack.

Making my OLEDs
Click any image below to open the lightbox.



Sources of help and equipment which were crucial to my work

State surplus:
- Fume hood

Home Depot:
- Ducting for the fume hood (remember, it’s only being used for a small amount of solvent, and some nitrogen gas from when the spin coater is running).

eBay:
- Fume hood motor/fan assy.
- Spin coater
- Autopipetters
- Hot plate
- Misc. lab supplies (stir bars, vials, autopipetter tips, etc.)
- Safety supplies (organic respirator, splach guard, nitrile gloves)
- Equipment for building the management line for the nitrogen gas(tubes, connectors, etc), and solenoid valves to the spin coater and spray gun.

ChemSavers:
- Toluene
- Indium
- Gallium

E2M Technology:
- Ruthenium based emitter

ADS Dyes:
- All other emitters

Ossila Limited:
- PEDOT:PSS

Delta Technologies:
- ITO glass (surplus)

GigOptix:
- Rotating shaker used for OLED materials once they have been suspended in solvent

I would like to thank E2M Technology for helping me when I was just starting out, ChemSavers for providing a way to acquire reasonable chemicals, ADS Dyes for dealing with me and sometimes giving me extra material, Ossila Limited for the discounts and extra equipment which will not go unused, Delta Technologies for giving me a good deal and a sample of flexible PET so I can try to make a flexible device in the future, and GigOptix for giving me a good deal on semiconductor equipment which I plan to use in the future. I got great advice from people at every one of these companies.

I purchased/was given considerably more materials and equipment than this; these were the bare necessities to complete this project. I plan to make organic solar cells next, followed by OFETs.

Addendum

All work done from a well-ventilated workspace in the industrial district. I do not have a background in common with this work or an education in quantum physics/organic chemistry.

As far as getting advice from researchers in the field, 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 unhelpful 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 true 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.

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

five Comments

  1. emily c On March 4, 2014 at 9:06

    Nice work, Ian!

  2. glasspusher On March 4, 2014 at 12:48

    Dear Ian,

    Beautiful page, explanation and documentation. Good for you to keep trying despite the advice of the experts. Understanding the science behind stuff is great, but you clearly know that having a little chutzpah gets you a long way.

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