The Nobel Prize has been awarded annually for more than a century with a variety of categories ranging from medicine and chemistry to literature and peace. However, the one that seems to catch the most attention is the Nobel Prize in Physics. Over the years, physicists never fail to surprise the world with yet another revolutionary discovery and invention that changes how we view the universe and helps make this world a much better place to live. In this blog post, I would like to discuss last year’s Physics Nobel laureates and what good their inventions have brought to mankind. Last year’s physics laureates are Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura from Japan who invented the blue light emitting diode (LED). You may be wondering, why blue light emitting diodes? Well, blue was the last ingredient required to make white LED. The ability to make white LEDs means that companies will be able to make smartphone and computer screens, LED TVs and LED light bulbs. LEDs last much longer and are much more efficient than other types of light sources.
LEDs are basically semiconductors that emit light when activated. Since the 1950s, scientists were able to make red and green light emitting diodes, however, they couldn’t quite make blue LEDs. What is it about blue LEDs that makes them so hard to make? [As mentioned earlier, LEDs are semiconductors made of materials that would emit light if electricity is run through it.] The problem with blue light is that it has a smaller wavelength (more energy) compared to green and red light. Therefore, it is harder to find a material to make the semiconductor for blue LED.
This is why the three laureates deserved the Nobel Prize; they innovated a material (an Aluminium Gallium Nitride alloy) that was able to facilitate the energy difference required to produce blue light. This meant that companies were able to produce white LEDs; which are much more efficient than ordinary incandescent light bulbs as it converts 50% of the electricity to light compared to 4% conversion rate of incandescent light bulbs. White LEDs also last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights and 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs. Switching lights in houses and buildings over to LEDs could significantly reduce the world’s electricity and materials consumption for lighting.
Looking at past Nobel laureates and their accomplishments makes me proud of what mankind has accomplished and makes me optimistic about what we can and will achieve in the future.