Breaking News: Blue LED Inventors Win Nobel Prize!

Leading Lights

Prof. Hiroshi Amano, right, of Nagoya University and Meijo University Prof. Isamu Akasaki won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday

When I tell people I run a lighting store, they sometimes think my work is all about helping clients choose fixtures and shades for their homes and businesses. But, let me tell you, there has never been a more exciting time to be in the lighting industry. The technology we use—which was fairly static for many decades—is now galloping ahead into the future. To cap it all off, 2014 saw the Nobel Prize for Physics go to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, the scientists who helped develop blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, in the early 1990s. 

Blue LED

It might surprise you that the Nobel committee thought LED lights were worthy of such an honour, but the fact is, the technology is improving life for people all over the world. Although it’s now obvious that these are the lights of the future, scientists weren’t always that hopeful. Back in the 1980s, the diodes could only produce green or red light, which obviously isn’t suitable for lighting homes and workplaces. 

Getting The Green Light

Led Globes

The first thing you need to know about LED lights is that they are approximately 15 times more efficient than incandescents, so their potential to reduce energy use is enormous. A large percentage of a country’s energy use comes from lighting, so as LED lights get cheaper and cheaper in lighting stores, it becomes more likely that they will completely replace incandescent and fluorescent globes all over the world. This won’t just save our consumers a lot of money, it could also help slow down global warming. Even though history shows us that as lighting gets more efficient, we tend to use more of it, it’s difficult to imagine that we will be using 15 times more at any time in the near future.

Saving The World

It’s precisely because LED lights use very little energy that there’s such a lot of interest in LEDs in developing countries around the world. Over 1.5 billion people don’t have access to electricity grids, and LED lighting can be powered by inexpensive solar power that is generated locally. 

Whether you have access to electricity or not, you still need to light your home, and in many developing countries, people burn wood and gas to get enough light to see what they’re doing after sundown. That’s not just inefficient; it also creates horrendous indoor air pollution that kills four million people every year. Imagine the younger members of the family, trying to study and complete homework assignments in a smokey, poorly-lit house. LED lighting could bring them the means to educate themselves and improve life for their families, communities and nations. 

The world of today and the world of the future owe those three scientists a great debt, as we look forward to a safer, more egalitarian planet. Let’s take full advantage of this Nobel Prize-winning technology in our homes and businesses.