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Researchers, SPIE praise Nobel award for developing blue LED


07 October 2014

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Solid-state lighting researchers and SPIE applaud the news of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to developers of the blue light-emitting diode (LED).

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura will receive the prize for their "invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources."

"The invention of the blue light-emitting diode is a unique milestone in the history of technologies," said Klaus Streubel, head of corporate technology for lighting manufacturer OSRAM AG. "By 'taming' the gallium nitride material system, it was possible to close the last gap in the visible spectrum of LEDs. LEDs have already penetrated basically all of our daily life, and in a few years, white LEDs will dominate general illumination." Streubel is also chair of the annual conference "Light-Emitting Diodes: Materials, Devices, and Applications for Solid State Lighting" at SPIE Photonics West.

"The blue LED has completed the toolbox of solid-state lighting by providing a full gamut of colors through either color mixing or phosphor-coated blue LEDs," said R. John Koshel, professor and associate dean at the University of Arizona's College of Optical Sciences. "In a short 20 years this technology is used around us every day, from smartphone and laptop displays to lighting in our homes and offices to the headlights on our cars." 

All three Nobel laureates have a long history with SPIE, including dozens of papers each in SPIE Proceedings since the early 1990s. Papers coauthored by each of the three will be in the conference "Gallium Nitride Materials and Devices" at SPIE Photonics West, 7-12 February 2015 in San Francisco.

Mark Rea, professor and director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said that the development could be the most important one in lighting since the incandescent bulb.

"Blue LEDs may be the first 'white' lighting technology that actually displaces all the others because of their wide diversity in form factors, high reliability, controllability and high efficacy, or light per watt," Rea said. "This technology provides a platform for delivering greater safety, security, health, and productivity at a lower cost and a lower negative impact on the environment."

Koshel said this discovery extends far beyond lighting. "Blue and associated white-light LEDs have also led to burgeoning research and development in nonimaging/illumination optics, with its designs crossing into the solar concentration sector. This means the optical engineering that the invention of the white LED spurred on can also be used to produce the electricity that LEDs require."

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs emphasized the value of the discovery to humanity. "The Nobel committee rightly acknowledged the LED's far-reaching benefit for humankind," he said. "This is an inspirational example of scientific discovery addressing one of our grand challenges -- energy consumption. From this advance, millions of people in need will have clean light for the first time using LEDs." He highlighted the beneficial effect of LED light replacing kerosene, used for decades in developing countries. Chronic asthma has been reduced dramatically.

"It's appropriate that the Nobel Prize in Physics goes to a lighting breakthrough as we prepare to celebrate the International Year of Light in 2015," Arthurs said. "The role of light in everyday life is vital but taken for granted by many of us, and the Nobel Prize to these innovators should help to raise awareness."

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.



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