2014 Nobel Prize – Physics … I’ve seen the light


Nobel-PrizeIt’s Nobel Prize time again and today we find out who wins the Prize for Physics. This one usually excites because it is often somebody well-known, or for something well deserved, and this year is indeed a great choice – they really do get this one right year after year.

Awarded annually since 1901 (except in 1940, 41 and 42) the nomination and selection process for the prize in Physics is long and rigorous. It starts with several thousand people being asked to nominate candidates, and these names are then scrutinised and discussed by experts until the choice is made.

Great care is taken, their rules require that the significance of achievements being recognized has been “tested by time.” In practice it means that the lag between the discovery and the award is typically on the order of 20 years and can be much longer.

This rigour is perhaps a key reason why it has grown in importance over the years to become the most important prize in Physics.

So who has won in the past?

Lots of well-known names … Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Fermi, Pauli, Feynman, etc…

And the winners this year are …

Isamu Akasaki Hiroshi Amano Shuji Nakamura
Isamu Akasaki Hiroshi Amano Shuji Nakamura

 

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.

New light to illuminate the world

This year’s Nobel Laureates are rewarded for having invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.

When Isamu AkasakiHiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura produced bright blue light beams from their semi-conductors in the early 1990s, they triggered a funda-mental 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 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 invention of the blue LED is just twenty years old, but it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all.

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