Japanese Physicists Win Nobel Prize For Revolutionary Light Bulbs

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura on Tuesday for inventing the blue light-emitting diode (LED), an energy-efficient light source. 

“By using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way,” the Nobel Committee said. “With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.”

Akasaki and Amano from the University of Nagoya in Japan worked with Nakamura, now at the University of California, to create an LED lamp that emits white light, previously a struggle among scientists. 

To get white light you need to combine three colours: red, green, and blue. The red and green LEDs have been around for a while, but not blue. (Obviously, it’s not as simple as that: LED’s are semiconductors that emit light when voltage is passed through them; getting the materials to emit the right colours of light vastly increases their efficiency).

The blue LED was invented just 20 years ago, but it has already had a tremendous benefit on society. LED lamps last a long time and don’t use mercury like fluorescent bulbs. 

“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 committee said in a statement. 

Screen Shot 2014 10 07 at 11.16.32 AMNobel FoundationThe evolution of the light bulb.

On Monday, John O’Keefe and husband-wife team Edvard and May-Britt Moser split the Nobel Prize in medicine for “their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.”

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