Three Japan-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing energy-saving LED lights, which have upended a multibillion-dollar industry while offering the promise of lighting to people living far from an electricity grid.
Isamu Akasaki, 85, from Meijo and Nagoya Universities, Hiroshi Amano, 54, from Nagoya, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, will share the 8 million-krona ($1.1 million) prize for the invention of blue-light emitting diodes, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in Stockholm.
The work “triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology,” the academy said in a statement. “Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century, the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”
The three scientists were the first to master the intricate layering of semiconductor materials needed to create blue-light emitting diodes. Though red and green diodes had been invented decades earlier, blue was needed to complete the trio and create a light that would be white in colour.
The impact of the invention is still playing out in a lighting industry estimated by Royal Philips NV to be worth about $75 billion. LED lamps accounted for 15 percent of global lighting sales in 2013, up from 4 percent in 2009, according to Euromonitor International, a market research company. In Asia, LEDs are now 20 percent of the market.
“If you look at Philips’s guidance, they’re saying that traditional lighting will decline 10 percent per annum, where LEDs will grow 20 percent to 25 percent per annum,” said Robin van den Broek, an Amsterdam-based analyst at ING Bank. “We’re still in a transitional phase, and the fact that you could have a blue LED light which allowed the white LED light was pivotal to that.”
Analysts have said that General Electric Co., the third-biggest lighting maker, may divest those operations, particularly after the Fairfield, Connecticut-based manufacturer agreed in September to sell its home appliances unit.
LED lighting also has helped open up new markets on continents such as Africa, where many people have limited access to an electricity grid. Unlike older, power-hungry bulbs, LED models can run on solar power and other cheap local alternatives. Philips has targeted markets in Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Tanzania.
Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 and the prizes were first handed out the following year.
The first Nobel in physics was awarded to Wilhelm Roentgen for his discovery of X-rays. Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won last year for describing the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that may explain where mass comes from.