Lighting Industry, News

Blue LED inventors awarded Nobel physics prize

This year’s Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to the inventors of the blue LED – the key breakthrough that made LED lighting possible.

The prize of eight million Swedish krona (€882,000) went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura (pictured at LuxLive last year) ‘for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources’.

They join a list of 196 other laureates going back to 1901.

The Nobel Prizes aim to recognise developments that have brought ‘the greatest benefit to mankind’. The award for the Japanese scientists represents a major endorsement of the significance of the LED lighting revolution, and the technology’s potential to make the world a better place.

At the time, Akasaki and Amano were working for the University of Nagoya, while Nakamura was working for LED maker Nichia.

Nakamura told this morning’s press conference, ‘It’s unbelievable.’

In a statement, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences pointed particularly to the environmentally friendly properties of LEDs, and how their use for lighting is reducing consumption of energy and materials.

It said the breakthrough by the trio in the early 1990s ‘triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology’.

‘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 statement said.

‘The invention of the blue LED is just twenty years old, but is has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all.’

‘Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.’

William Rhodes, research manager for LEDs and lighting at IHS, said that the invention was a ‘game changer’, which was responsible for creating a $17.7 billion (€14 billion) market and more than 250,000 jobs.
‘Before the invention of blue LEDs, the market was mainly focused on indicator lights in toys, industrial and automotive applications,’ said Rhodes. ‘Since then the market has evolved with more than 90 per cent of all displays sold this year backlit by LEDs, and LEDs will account for 32 percent of all bulb sales and revenue in 2014.’

Nakamura – who was named as Lux‘s Person of the Year at the Lux Awards last year – was famously given a bonus of just $200 by Nichia for his work on the blue LED. He later sued them and won $10 million.

He has since co-founded US-bsed LED lamp maker Soraa, which uses violet LED chips (what Nakamura calls ‘LED 2.0‘) to enable very high colour rendering and long life.

Watch our interview with Shuji Nakamura from LuxLive 2013: