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Among the world’s most prestigious awards, the 2014 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace were announced last week.. (The Prize for economic sciences will be announced on Monday, October 13.) Perhaps the most anticipated Nobel, the Peace Prize, was awarded to Kailash Satyarthi andMalala Yousafzay “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education".
The Nobel Peace Prize justifiably garners a lot of attention. Who would not want to be recognized for promoting peace or fighting for a greater good? Remarkably, Yousafzay is only 17. She is now history’s youngest Nobel Laureate. Most Nobel Laureates work a lifetime before earning their Prize. The scientists who win Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and medicine are often men and women whose decades of quiet work in a lab produced discoveries that have changed our lives yet they receive little public recognition. That is definitely the case this year for Isamu Akasaki,Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura. The trio, whom most of us have never heard of, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources". Their discovery powers our digital world. Learn why light-emitting diodes are a big, bright idea.
What’s So Special about LED Lights?—
In the beginning, there was fire, and candles lit the darkness. Then, there was the incandescent light bulb, the light bulb Edison is famous for, the light bulb that burned your fingertips if you tried to change it before it cooled, the very symbol of inspiration and scientific discovery. Incandescent bulbs work, and become hot, because the light is generated by heat. Incandescent bulbs are very inefficient; less than 10% of the energy is converted to light.
Next came fluorescent light bulbs. These bulbs are more energy efficient because they create light differently. But, both incandescent and fluorescent bulbs stop working and need to be changed frequently. And, while fluorescent bulbs are more energy efficient, the small amounts of mercury they require make them unsafe for landfills.
Light-emitting diodes, aka LED lights, are the latest lighting innovation. They join incandescent and fluorescent bulbs to offer consumers three lighting options. LED light is different than earlier bulbs and offers several benefits over earlier light sources.
LED lights are more than a new light bulb. LED light represents a revolution in lighting. Read the Christian Science Monitor article, How LEDs change the world, and watch the short accompanying video to understand why LEDs are revolutionary and how the Nobel winners’ research contributed to them. LED lights are the light of the future. They are in everything from street lights to stadiums, smart phones to flat screens.
Science of LED lights—
So, how do light-emitting diodes work? Visit the website for Royal Philips, the lighting company (among other industries) for a graphic that shows the anatomy of the LED light. Explore the interactive feature at the bottom of the page (click on the right triangle) to learn more about how LEDs work, and a timeline of their invention.
You may have noticed Shuji Nakamura, one of the three Nobel winners’ name, mentioned toward the end of the Philips interactive. His work on blue light-emitting diodes was the missing piece that made white LED lights possible. Read the Nobel site article, Blue LEDs filling the world with new light, for a more detailed explanation of how LEDs work. Learn too what Nakamura, Akasaki, and Amano discovered, and why their research defied tradition and relied on persistence.
Finally, learn more about the three latest Nobel Laureates in Physics. Read the curriculum vitaes for Nagoya University professors Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, and U.C. Santa Barbara Professor Shuji Nakamura. Watch the celebration ceremony held last week at U.C. Santa Barbara in order to hear Professor Nakamura speak about how he hopes this research will be applied.