The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to scientists Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and Shuji Nakamura of the United States on Tuesday for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, a breakthrough that spurred the development of LED technology used to light up computer screens and modern smartphones.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which acts as a selection board for the prestigious prize, said the scientists’ invention was just 20 years old, "but it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all."
Scientists had struggled for decades to produce the blue diodes that are a crucial component in producing white light from LEDs when the three laureates made their breakthroughs in the early 1990s.
Their work transformed lighting technology, paving the way for LED lighting, which is longer-lasting and more energy efficient than incandescent and fluorescent lights.
"They succeeded where everyone else had failed," the Nobel committee said. "Incandescent lightbulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”
Akasaki, 85, is a professor at Meijo University and distinguished professor at Nagoya University. Amano, 54, is also a professor at Nagoya. Nakamura, 60, is a Japanese-born professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Akasaki said in a nationally televised news conference that he had often been told that his research wouldn't bear fruit in the 20th century.
"But I never felt that way," he said. "I was just doing what I wanted to do."
Akasaki and Amano invented blue light-emitting diodes while working at Nagoya University. Nakamura was working separately at Japanese company Nichia Chemicals. They built their own equipment and carried out thousands of experiments — many of which failed — before they made their breakthroughs.
In a statement from U.C. Santa Barbara, Nakamura said he was honored to receive the prize. "It is very satisfying to see that my dream of LED lighting has become a reality," he said. "I hope that energy-efficient LED light bulbs will help reduce energy use and lower the cost of lighting worldwide."
The Nobel committee said LEDs contribute to saving Earth's resources because about one-fourth of world electricity consumption is for lighting purposes.
They are more efficient than older light sources and tend to last 10 times longer than fluorescent lamps and 100 times longer than incandescent light bulbs, the committee added.
Physics was the second of this year's crop of Nobels. The prizes were first awarded in 1901 to honor achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and business tycoon Alfred Nobel.
As winners of the physics award, the first field to be mentioned in Nobel's will, the laureates join ranks with some of the biggest names in science, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and the husband and wife team of Pierre and Marie Curie.