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09 October 2014

Inventors of LED lights win Nobel Prize

Three scientists who made low energy white lightbulbs or light emitting diodes (LEDs) possible have won the Nobel Prize in Physics this week. Their discovery 20 years ago spawned a multi-million pound international industry in efficient lighting.

This year's Nobel Laureates are rewarded for having invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.

Explaining its decision, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a paper: “Since lighting represents 20-30% of our electrical energy consumption and since these new white light sources require ten times less energy than ordinary light bulbs, the use of efficient blue LEDs leads to significant energy savings, of great benefit to mankind.”

Research by the trio, Isamu AkasakiHiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, ended a three-decade-long struggle by producing bright blue light beams from semi-conductors.

This meant low energy lighting with a white appearance could be created: previously with only red and green diodes around, it could not. White light needs a mixture of all three colours.

Akasaki worked with Amano at the University of Nagoya, while Nakamura was employed at Nichia Chemicals a small company in Tokushima.

Woken by a phone call from Nobel’s Chief Scientific Officer to break the news, now California-based Nakamura said he was “very happy”, adding: “When I started on my research I never expected I could invent the LED and laser diode… I was so lucky.”

Research is like a “quiz” you have to find the answer to, he added: “Always there is a problem and I have to solve the problem.”


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