White light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are found in today’s most common electronic devices and serve as light sources in homes across the country. But before National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Shuji Nakamura discovered how to create efficient blue LEDs, none of this was possible.
Born on May 22, 1954, in Ikata, Japan, Nakamura studied electrical engineering at the University of Tokushima where he received a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. in 1977, 1979 and 1994 respectively. He then began working at the Nichia Corporation, a company that at the time specialized in creating phosphorus products for coating the inside of TV screens and fluorescent lamps. While there, he convinced the founder of the company to work on the development of blue GaN LEDs using a low-temperature heating method that significantly increased its efficiency. Using indium gallium nitride (InGaN) and adjusting the amount of indium inside the semiconductor, Nakamura created the energy gap required to make this new bright blue LED possible.
In an interview coinciding with winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for this innovation, Nakamura explained that what made his blue LED special was that it was nearly 100 times brighter than existing blue LEDs at the time.
“My invention is 100 times brighter so [these] blue LEDs can be used in all kinds of applications,” Nakamura said.
By combining his bright blue LED with fluorescent material, Nakamura enabled the creation of white light. Additionally, by combining this new blue LED with existing red and green LEDs, manufacturers were able to produce any other color of light. This revolutionary development enabled the production of power-efficient screens used in televisions, computer monitors and smartphones.
Thanks to the knowledge gained while developing his blue LED, Nakamura also invented the blue laser, which led to a five to 10-fold increase in storage capacity and the creation of new industry standards, including Blu-ray.
However, perhaps the most impactful technology enabled by Nakamura’s discovery were LED light bulbs. By consuming just 5% of the power of an incandescent light and producing far more lumens per watt than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, LED light sources have the potential to provide significant economic savings. As electric lights are responsible for around 25% of the world’s electricity usage, transitioning to LEDs as a primary light source can lead to a profound environmental impact.
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This holiday season, while you’re putting up lights and decorations, there’s a good chance that you’re benefiting from Nakamura’s blue LED!
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