MultiLing congratulates Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura of Japan for receiving the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics. Well done!
The recognition and award come for their invention of a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). Why is this work special enough to warrant the world’s most prestigious physics award?
Here are some of the important applications that this elusive light led to:
- Combining blue LED, with red and green LED light, produces white light that can compete with other commercially available white incandescent lights. It is a more long-lasting alternative to older light sources, 50 percent more efficient at converting electrical energy into light than incandescent light bulbs, and reduces energy consumption by about 20 percent.
- The reduction of energy consumption removes the need to invest in building new power plants and is more compatible with renewable energy sources like solar power.
- Longer-lasting light bulbs equal a lot less waste.
- Multi-color LEDs light up the screens on your smartphone, tablet and laptop computer.
- The advent of blue LED has also led to higher-energy LEDs called ultraviolet LEDs that offer an inexpensive way to sterilize water, which is especially useful in developing countries with limited access to clean drinking water.
“The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power,” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated in their press release.
The first visible-light LED – red – was developed in 1962. Five years later, the green LED was invented. But blue LED did not come so easily and took another 27 years to create. The three scientists finally succeeded where many had failed.
“A lot of big companies really tried to do this and they failed. But these guys persisted and they tried, and tried again, and eventually they actually succeeded,” said Per Delsing, the chairman of the Nobel Committee.
An interesting back-story on the patent of the blue LED was reported by Lily Hay Newman in Slate magazine:
“Along with his work on the blue LED, Nakamura is also known for crusading to get additional compensation for the discovery, and generally advocating for employees’ intellectual property rights. When an individual invents something as part of R&D for her employer, she generally gives over the rights to the patent in exchange for ‘reasonable’ compensation. But since blue LEDs were kind of, you know, important going forward in the electronics industry, Nakamura brought suit against Nichia Corp. in 2001 for paying him $180 for the patent in the early 1990s.
“In 2004 the Tokyo District Court ruled that Nichia could have earned more than $1.1 billion in profits from blue LEDs since they were first marketed in 1993, and awarded him $180 million in compensation from Nichia. That plus a Nobel Prize seems like pretty ‘reasonable’ compensation.”