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Nobel prize-winning light technology

Nobel prize-winning light technology

Wednesday 15 October 2014

What happens if you invent a lighting solution that reduces the energy consumption of the entire planet? You are paid £125 for having the idea, and twenty years down the line, you win a Nobel prize. At least, that has been the experience of Japanese-born US scientist Shuji Nakamura.

In 1993, Nakamura invented a blue light-emitting-diode (LED). In association with colleagues Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, Nakamura triggered a step-change in lighting technology by generating blue light from semiconductors – something scientists had struggled with for decades. The new blue light technology allowed LED lamps emitting white light to be built in a new and more effective way. The technology, used in everything from houses to highways and motherboards to malls, is predicted to be worth around $80billion by 2020.

The three scientists have now been honoured for their seismic contribution to lighting up the world and saving the Earth’s resources with the prestigious Nobel Physics Prize.

To reflect the Japanese company ethos at the time, Nakamura was rewarded with 20,000 yen for his intitial discovery (about £125), the thinking being that working for an employer should not be a route to personal glory. Nakamura quit and moved to the US, where his former employers tried to sue him for infringing trade secrets. In a remarkable turn of events, Nakamura counter-sued and was awarded just over £5m for his idea – reported to be the largest single payout ever to an individual employee.


  1. Reuters UK:
    Light bulb moment: Low-energy LED wins Nobel prize.


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