Congratulations goes out to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura. Some 20 years ago, they invented the blue light-emitting diode, an energy-efficient and environmentally efficient light source with revolutionary implications.

This particular prize fits in well with Alfred Nobel's mandate of rewarding scientists for inventions that conferred the greatest benefit to humanity. With the advent of blue LEDS, white light could be created in a novel way. Today, with the introduction of LED lamps, we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.

The blue LED put into practice. Courtesy Nobel Prize.

From the Nobel Prize announcement:

When Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura produced bright blue light beams from their semi-conductors in the early 1990s, they triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology. Red and green diodes had been around for a long time but without blue light, white lamps could not be created. Despite considerable efforts, both in the scientific community and in industry, the blue LED had remained a challenge for three decades.

They succeeded where everyone else had failed. Akasaki worked together with Amano at the University of Nagoya, while Nakamura was employed at Nichia Chemicals, a small company in Tokushima. Their inventions were revolutionary. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.

White LED lamps emit a bright white light, are long-lasting and energy-efficient. They are constantly improved, getting more efficient with higher luminous flux (measured in lumen) per unit electrical input power (measured in watt). The most recent record is just over 300 lm/W, which can be compared to 16 for regular light bulbs and close to 70 for fluorescent lamps. As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth's resources. Materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights. (Illustrations: Johan Jamestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

Big things sometimes come from (seemingly) small things. LED lamps are poised to help over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids and have to depend on cheap local solar power.


And as noted at the Physics Today Facebook page, Nagoya University's Amano must have been away from his lab when the news broke that he had won a share of this year's physics Nobel.

His absence clearly didn't stop the members of his group from celebrating with him - albeit in the form of a life-sized cardboard cutout.


Much more about the technology behind the Nobel-winning breakthrough at Physics Today.

Top image: demarcomedia/shutterstock.