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What Causes the LED to Emit Light and What Determines the Color of the Light?

When sufficient voltage is applied to the chip across the leads of the LED, electrons can move easily in only one direction across the junction between the p and n regions. In the p region there are many more positive than negative charges. In the n region the electrons are more numerous than the positive electric charges. When a voltage is applied and the current starts to flow, electrons in the n region have sufficient energy to move across the junction into the p region. Once in the p region the electrons are immediately attracted to the positive charges due to the mutual Coulomb forces of attraction between opposite electric charges. When an electron moves sufficiently close to a positive charge in the p region, the two charges "re-combine". Each time an electron recombines with a positive charge, electric potential energy is converted into electromagnetic energy. For each recombination of a negative and a positive charge, a quantum of electromagnetic energy is emitted in the form of a photon of light with a frequency characteristic of the semi-conductor material (usually a combination of the chemical elements gallium, arsenic and phosphorus). Only photons in a very narrow frequency range can be emitted by any material. LED's that emit different colors are made of different semi-conductor materials, and require different energies to light them.

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