The 2014 Nobel Prize for physics is being awarded to three scientists credited with inventing efficient blue LEDs, a development that allowed for the creation of the white LED light sources that are inching toward ubiquity across the globe.
Though LEDs of other colors have been around since the mid 1900s, the blue LED proved far more difficult to create as researchers struggled to find a material that would produce blue light. The three researchers being awarded today, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, recognized that gallium nitride would lead to a blue color and discovered a way to produce the light in an efficient way by adding in aluminum and indium.
Red, green, and blue light needs to be combined to create white light, so the work of Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura provided the final piece to a long-running puzzle. Since then, white LED lights have increased in efficiency and are slowly becoming more prevalent. “The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids,” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences explains, “due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power.” The winners will split a prize of 8 $1.1 million USD.