Re-light my diode: Trio of boffins scoop physics Nobel for BLUE LEDs

An end to green and red monotony

The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to three researchers for coming up with the blue LED - allowing humanity to break free of the red and green prison it had languished in until then.

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura have been honoured “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.

As The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' blurb explains, “Red and green diodes had been around for a long time but without blue light, white lamps could not be created.”

Boffins tried and failed to make blue LEDs for about thirty years, but Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura cracked it in the mid-eighties. The first two boffins listed worked together and Nakamura worked alone, but all used gallium nitride in the semiconductors that comprise an LED. The researchers' approaches differed, but the result was the same: by 1992 both were showing off blue LEDs.

It's now hard to avoid their invention: there's probably a blue LED in your mobile phone's flash, plenty in your tellie and more in innumerable other devices.

The Swedes aren't holding back on the importance of the researchers' discovery, suggesting that “Their inventions were revolutionary. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”

Let's salute the impact on IT, too: where would sysadmins be without blinkenlights in colours other than red and green? ®

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