Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura for blue-LED breakthrough

SPIE Newsroom
7 October 2014

07 October 2014

Isamu Akasaki Hiroshi Amano Shuji Nakamura

Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura.

The winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, announced the morning of 7 October in Stockholm, are Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura. They are honored for their "invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources."

From the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announcement:

"When Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura produced bright blue light beams from their semiconductors 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."

"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 chair of the annual conference "Light-Emitting Diodes: Materials, Devices, and Applications for Solid State Lighting" at SPIE Photonics West.

All three Nobel laureates have a long history with SPIE:

  • Amano has served on the program committees for two annual conferences at SPIE Photonics West since 2006: Physics and Simulation of Optoelectronic Devices, and Gallium Nitride Materials and Devices. He is coauthor of two papers scheduled for Photonics West (in San Francisco, 7-12 February 2015.
  • Akasaki has authored or coauthored more than 35 papers at SPIE symposia since 1990. He is also a coauthor of two papers to be presented at Photonics West.
  • Nakamura has served on the program committees of several SPIE International Conferences on Solid-State Lighting in San Diego, and is author or coauthor of more than 30 SPIE publications. He is also coauthor of two papers at SPIE Photonics West. Nakamura's biography, Brilliant! Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology, written by Bob Johnstone, is available from SPIE in cooperation with Prometheus Press.

All of the laureates' papers at SPIE Photonics West are in the conference Gallium Nitride Materials and Devices X, which runs 9-12 February.

All three honorees are natives of Japan. Akasaki is a professor at Meijo University, Nagoya, and Distinguished Professor at Nagoya University, Japan. Amano is a professor at Nagoya University, Japan. Nakamura is a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.

Update: SPIE President-Elect Toyohiko Yatagai noted the significance of the win, coupled with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry announcement.

"It is no coincidence that 2015 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Light," Yatagai said. "We are entering a new era of light, and light-based technologies will break fresh ground, changing all our lifestyles. It is my pleasure that SPIE could contribute to this challenge."

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