The lighting, based on field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology, also gives off a soft, white light, rather than the yellowish tone of fluorescents or LEDs' bluish tinge.
"People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes, and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them," says lead scientist David Carroll.
"The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more."
The device is made of three layers of moldable white-emitting polymer blended with a small amount of nanomaterials that glow when stimulated to create bright and perfectly white light.
However, it can be made in any color and any shape – from 2x4-foot sheets to replace office lighting to a bulb with Edison sockets to fit household lamps and light fixtures. Carroll also sees potential applications in large display lighting, from store marquees to signs on buses and subway cars.
The team says it's at least twice as efficient as compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs and on par with LEDs. FIPELs also are long-lasting, with Carroll saying he's had one that's worked for about ten years. And because it's plastic, it's shatter-proof.
"You want a light that won't shatter and create a hazmat situation while your children are around," says Carroll.
Wake Forest is now working with a company to manufacture the technology and plans to have it ready for consumers as early as next year.