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WHY A BLUE LED IS WORTH A NOBEL PRIZE

The widespread distribution of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is changing our everyday lives, helping us provide a new form of lighting in our homes.

Japanese researchers: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura

Japanese researchers: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura

They are more efficient, more economical and last for such a long time on average that they are not comparable to the old light sources. However, were it not for the pioneering work of three Japanese researchers, Isamu AkasakiHiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, things would be different. As long ago as 1980, the trio was able to create the first high efficient blue LEDs, a discovery that paved the way for a new form of lighting, by producing white light from LEDs.

Light-emitting diodes work by applying a current to a layer of semiconducting materials which then emit a specific wavelength, depending on the chemical composition of these materials. The first red LED light was created in the early 1960’s, using gallium arsenide. Then at the end of that decade, the researchers were able to develop green LED light.

However, it was not until the early 1980’s that they managed to develop blue LED light, which is essential for developing a light source of white light. Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura focussed on the development of a semiconducting compound known as gallium nitride (GaN), developing blue light from the creation of high-quality crystals. Their discovery was rewarded in 2014, when they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for “for the invention of efficient blue lightemitting diodes (LEDs), which enabled the development of bright and energy-saving white light sources.” Nakamura says that his life has not changed much since winning the Nobel Prize, the most prestigious award in the field of physics, only that the Japanese media follow him more often and students now recognise him. Nakamura says: “at least I now have a reserved space in the car park” of the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he now works. However, while his life has not changed much, there is no doubt that the discoveries he made have helped change the way we live our lives.

 

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