The Invention of Blue LED Technology Is a Nobel Prize Winning Achievement

By outlaw_wolf [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By outlaw_wolf [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Three Japanese inventors (one of them is Japanese-American) were recently awarded the prestigious Nobel prize for the invention of efficient blue LED or light-emitting diode. The 2014 Nobel prize in physics was given to Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University in Nagoya, Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, and Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Official details of the award was published on an October 7, 2014 press release that was also posted on the official Nobel Prize website. As the announcement mentioned, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences chose the three scientists “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”

Geoffrey.landis at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Geoffrey.landis at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Does the Invention Really Deserve a Nobel Prize?

LEDs of different colors have already become commonplace at present. That’s why many could be wondering if the invention of blue LED is really deserving of such a prestigious honor in the field of physics. To justify the Nobel Prize, however, it’s important to remember one essential reality when it comes to LED lighting. It’s not possible to create white light with LEDs without the blue LED technology. LEDs have been around for three decades but the production of efficient blue LED light remained to be a challenge for the lighting industry and even for the scientific community.

The trio scientists’ invention is considered revolutionary. As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted, they “triggered a transformation of lighting technology when they produced bright blue light from semiconductors in the 1990’s.” For the uninitiated, white light from LEDs is created by the combined illumination of red, green, and blue LEDs. You can see this for yourself by examining the individual pixels of OLED displays like the famous Super AMOLED displays of Samsung’s smartphones and tablets. Each pixel of these displays is made up of three sub-pixels that dedicatedly produce red, green, and blue light (RGB).

The Creation of White LEDs

There are two main approaches of producing white light with LEDs. The first is to combine red, green, and blue LEDs similar to what is being done with OLED displays used in televisions and mobile device displays.The second approach is through the use of a phosphor coating. With the phosphor coating approach, only blue LED is used but it is made to produce yellow light by making the blue light it produces pass through the phosphor coating. Of course, yellow is not white so it is blended with unfiltered blue light in calibrated levels to achieve the desired whiteness. “Cool white” light is achieved by having more blue light in the mix while “warm white” is produced by having less of it (having more yellow).

Enlarged view of the LCD color display of Image:Tablet HP TC-1100.jpg showing the pixel RGB arrangement. Based on Image:Nuvola apps kalzium.png, which is LGPL. [public domain]

Enlarged view of the LCD color display of Image:Tablet HP TC-1100.jpg showing the pixel RGB arrangement. Based on Image:Nuvola apps kalzium.png, which is LGPL. [public domain]

To emphasize, in both approaches blue LED technology is vital. It is the vital B in the RGB combination while it serves as the base light source in the phosphor approach. Hence, without it, obviously white light through LEDs cannot be produced. Without it, we can’t enjoy the vibrant colors of efficient OLED displays on televisions, smartphones, tablets, and even wearables. Without it, there can’t be no efficient LED lamps that can be used as alternatives to CFLs and incandescent bulbs.

Advantages of LED Light Sources

To further justify the Nobel Prize awarded to the blue LED inventors, the following advantages of LED lighting (with white light) are worth mentioning:

  • LED lamps last longer than incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps. Many of the commercially available home and office LED lights are now rated to last for around 50,000 hours of use.
  • LED lamps are also very efficient. Some 5 to 10 years ago, LED technology was still inferior to fluorescent lighting in terms of the amount of light produced for every watt of power consumed. Now, newer LED lighting  technology are already outperforming CFLs and fluorescent tubes. To produce 450 lumens of light, advanced LEDs only require some 4 to 5 watts of power whereas CFLs need 8 to 12 watts and incandescents consume 40 watts more or less.
  • Frequent on/off cycling also has insignificant effect on the lifespan of LED lights. Subjecting CFLs and incandescent bulbs will quickly wear them out and considerably lower their expected useful life.
  • LEDs also don’t need to warm up to achieve peak brightness. They are highly responsive so they turn on at full brightness as soon as they are switched on.
  • Durability is another advantage of LED technology. They don’t have easily breakable components.
  • Heat emissions from LEDs are also very minimal. It is only around 3 btu’s/hr compared to the 30 btu’s/hr of CFLs and the high 85 btu’s/hr of incandescent bulbs.
  • Safety and sensitivity advantages also come with LED lighting technology. They don’t contain mercury and other hazardous materials like those found in CFLs. Additionally, their performance and lifespan are not significantly affected by temperature changes and humidity levels.
File:Nobel Prize medal inscribed to F. G. Banting (12308739253).jpg

By Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (Nobel Prize medal inscribed to F. G. Banting) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is said that the most basic basis for granting the Nobel Prize is the conferment of “the greatest benefit to mankind.” What the trio of Japanese scientists achieved with the invention of the blue LED is doubtlessly something that benefits mankind. There should be no question whether or not they deserve to be awarded the Nobel Prize money worth $1.1 million (for each of them), diploma, and gold medal.