The scientists behind blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) have just won the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics. Yup, that’s the very same LEDs that light up when you puff on your blu™ e-cig.
Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura scooped the award in Sweden. They’ll share prize money of eight million kronor (£0.7m), and join a list of great minds including 2013 winner Peter Higgs (of “God particle” fame).
Today, companies use blue LEDs in smartphones to create those razor sharp displays. But it’s not until you combine blue with red and green LEDs that the magic really happens.
Red and green LEDs have been around for ages, but it took until the 1990s to crack blue LEDs. The key for Professors Akasaki and Amano lay in gallium nitride. To grow big enough crystals of the compound, the Japanese scientists created a scaffold made from sapphire. Pretty impressive. And they found just the right temperature to grow the crystals.
What’s so special about blue LED?
You need all three colours to produce today’s bright, energy-efficient white lamps and the LED screens found in computers, tablets and TVs. White LED lamps use way less energy than incandescent and fluorescent lamps. That’s because they convert electricity directly into photons of light – so heat and light is not wasted the same as traditional bulbs.
LEDs are efficient enough to run on cheap, local solar power too. So they could help over 1.5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to electricity grids.
A big, blue world
Energy-efficient lamps will help slow global carbon dioxide emissions too. 20% of the world’s electricity is used for lighting. Blue LEDs could help cut this down to just 4%.
At the awards ceremony, the Nobel committee said: “Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th Century; the 21st Century will be lit by LED lamps.”
So next time you’re puffing on your blu e-cig, stop and think. You’re enjoying the benefits of Nobel Prize winning technology, gigantic crystals and scaffolds made from sapphire. Nice!
Find out more about the wining invention here.