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Science

Physics Nobel Prize for LEDs

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LEDs use semiconductor materials and very little energy is lost to heat. The result is a lifespan of about 100 times that of an incandescent light
You would be hard put to find a home in a city that does not have an LED in some form or the other. It could be as a bulb, on clocks, in torches, blinking in the set top box, or in headlamps. But just how seminal its invention became was highlighted this week when three Japanese scientists won the Physics Nobel Prize for it.

Twenty years ago when the blue LED was invented, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano were both with Nagoya University and Shuji Nakamura worked with Nichia Corporation. The press release of the Nobel Prize’s announcement notes that when the three scientists ‘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.’

For three decades, that had been a challenge for physicists. But once, after more than a decade of research, the three created the blue LED, it led to a revolution in power savings. Traditional incandescent lights have filaments that burn out after some time. LEDs use semiconductor materials and very little energy is lost to heat. The result is a lifespan of about 100 times that of an incandescent light.

The scientists will split the $1.1 million prize. The awarding of the Nobel to something that ordinary people can comprehend has been welcomed. As CNET wrote, ‘Baffled by Higgs bosons, quantum mechanics, and the accelerating expansion of the universe? This year’s physics Nobel Prize is for something that’s reassuringly understandable and useful: the blue LEDs used in everything from home lighting and headlights to TV screens and traffic signals.’

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