Light Emitting Diodes
LEDs emit light when an electric current passes through them.
LEDs must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be labelled a or + for anode and k or – for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c, for cathode!). The cathode is the short lead and there may be a slight flat on the body of round LEDs. If you can see inside the LED the cathode is the larger electrode (but this is not an official identification method).
LEDs can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the risk is small unless you are very slow. No special precautions are needed for soldering most LEDs.
Testing an LED
Never connect an LED directly to a battery or power supply!
It will be destroyed almost instantly because too much current will pass through and burn it out.
LEDs must have a resistor in series to limit the current to a safe value, for quick testing purposes a 1k resistor is suitable for most LEDs if your supply voltage is 12V or less. Remember to connect the LED the correct way round!
A light-emitting diode is a semiconductor light source. LEDs are used as indicator lamps in many devices and are increasingly used for other lighting. Introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962, early LEDs emitted low-intensity red light, but modern versions are available across the visible, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness.
When a light-emitting diode is forward biased (switched on), electrons are able to recombine with electron holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence and the color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photon) is determined by the energy gap of the semiconductor. An LED is often small in area (less than 1 mm2), and integrated optical components may be used to shape its radiation pattern. LEDs present many advantages over incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved robustness, smaller size, faster switching, and greater durability and reliability. LEDs powerful enough for room lighting are relatively expensive and require more precise current and heat management than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output.
Light-emitting diodes are used in applications as diverse as replacements for aviation lighting, automotive lighting (particularly brake lamps, turn signals and indicators) as well as in traffic signals. The compact size, the possibility of narrow bandwidth, switching speed, and extreme reliability of LEDs has allowed new text and video displays and sensors to be developed, while their high switching rates are also useful in advanced communications technology. Infrared LEDs are also used in the remote control units of many commercial products including televisions, DVD players, and other domestic appliances.