Nobel prize winner Professor Isamu Akasaki is presented with a bouquet of flowers

Blue LED inventors win Nobel Prize in Physics

The researchers that invented blue light-emitting diodes – an efficient and environmentally friendly light source – have won the Nobel Prize in physics.

Professors Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and Professor Shuji Nakamura from the USA triggered a transformation of lighting technology when they produced bright blue light from semiconductors in the 1990s, something scientists had struggled with for decades, the Nobel committee said.

Creating LED lights that emit white light require blue diodes alongside green and red ones and the three laureates’ breakthroughs in the early 1990s transformed lighting technology, paving the way for widespread adoption of LED lighting, which is longer-lasting and more energy-efficient than older light sources.

The discoveries spurred the development of LED technology used to light up computer screens and modern smartphones and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that while the invention is just 20 years old “it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all".

Prof Akasaki, 85, is a professor at Meijo University and distinguished professor at Nagoya University. Prof Amano, 54, is also a professor at Nagoya University, while the 60-year-old Prof Nakamura is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth's resources," the committee said. "Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps."

Akasaki said in a news conference that he had often been told that his research would not bear fruit within the 20th century. "But I never felt that way," he said. "I was just doing what I wanted to do."

Akasaki and Amano made their inventions while working at Nagoya University, while Nakamura was working separately at Japanese company Nichia Chemicals. They built their own equipment and carried out thousands of experiments – many of which failed – before they made their breakthroughs.

In a statement from his university, Nakamura said he was honoured to receive the prize.

"It is very satisfying to see that my dream of LED lighting has become a reality," he said. "I hope that energy-efficient LED light bulbs will help reduce energy use and lower the cost of lighting worldwide."

H Frederick Dylla, the executive director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics said: "The blue LED is a fundamental invention that that is rapidly changing the way we bring light to every corner of the home, the street and the workplace – a practical invention that comes from a fundamental understanding of physics in the solid state."

Dr Frances Saunders, President of the UK Institute of Physics, said, “With 20 per cent of the world’s electricity used for lighting, it’s been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to four per cent.  Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura’s research has made this possible and this prize recognises this contribution.  

“This is physics research that is having a direct impact on the grandest of scales, helping protect our environment, as well as turning up in our everyday electronic gadgets.

“It’s wonderful that the Nobel Foundation have chosen to commend these three physicists’ work on the cusp of the International Year of Light 2015, a global initiative to highlight the importance of light in our lives.”  

Worth eight million kronor (£690,000) each, the Nobel Prizes are always handed out on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896. Besides the prize money, each laureate receives a diploma and a gold medal.

A video of Professor Shuji Nakamura delivering the 2010 IET Kelvin Address is available here.

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