Researchers at Wake Forest and Trinity didn't actually invent FIPEL technology-- the earliest paper on it seems to have been published by Austrian researchers in 1992 -- but their device is the first to turn it into a viable light source [source: Dillow, Grem, et al].
Instead of mercury or the filaments in old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, FIPEL lights contain multiple layers of polymers – plastic—imbued with an iridium compound and a small number of carbon nanotubes. The latter are cylindrical structures, built in laboratories that are as minuscule as 1/10,000th the diameter of a human hair! Compared to conventional materials, these nanomaterials have a lot of novel characteristics, such as increased strength, chemical reactivity and/or conductivity [source: European Commission]. When electrical current flows into the FIPEL tube, it stimulates it to produce light just as electrical current passing through mercury in a fluorescent tube does. That energy is filtered through the polymers to create light [sources: Dillow, Electronics Weekly].
Energywise, the FIPEL light is twice as energy-efficient as a CFL, about the same as a LED. But it doesn't have any caustic chemicals like the CFL which contains a small amount of mercury. And because it is plastic, the FIPEL is easy to recycle. The bulb has a lifetime of 25,000 to 50,000 hours, about the same as LED. Wake Forest physics professor David Carroll, who's the inventor, said he's had a bulb burning in his lab for a decade [source: Neal, Spector].