Published on February 2nd, 2019 | by Cynthia Shahan
February 2nd, 2019 by Cynthia Shahan
Shuji Nakamura was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 He met up with the director and chief editor for CleanTechnica, Zachary Shahan, at the 2018 Zayed Energy Prize Awards.
Zach asked Shuji Nakamura, “So, you’ve been working at Santa Barbara 17 years?”
Shuji Nakamura responds, “Yes, since 2000.”
Zach inquires, “And this is where the discoveries were made or you made them earlier?”
“Yeah, yeah I developed them — I made them in Japan before coming to the United States.”
Zach asked, “And that was part of what led you to the work at the University of Santa Barbara, was to continue this research and development?”
Nakamura replies, “Yes, in California, I continue my research.”
Zach talks about invention. He notes that there is a lot of improvements to technology, a lot of incremental improvements that are not inventions, but in Nakamura’s work, there’s a genuine invention aspect. Zach believes invention mesmerizes us. It’s like, “Where did it come from?”
Questioning Nakamura again, Zach asks, “The spirit of the invention — where did it come from in the case that led you to these dramatic achievements?”
Nakamura responds to Zachary that, “In Japan, I graduated from a small university, I joined a small company — it was a small company, 100 people. … My boss asked me to develop conventional infrared, red LEDs.” So, first, he spent a couple of years developing red LEDs. Then he joked with his boss, “Why don’t you develop blue LEDs, green LEDs?” He made the joke because in all the scientific papers on LEDs, there were no blue and no green. His boss joked that he was crazy — they didn’t have the resources or staff to work on that.
10 years later, he became desperate because the company was spending too much money on his work and pushed him out. He wanted to travel, so he ended up deciding to go to the University of Florida — basically just out of an interest to see the world a bit more. At the university, everyone was asking if he had a PhD and if he had published any scientific papers. He laughs that he was continually answering “no” to questions about these things. So, his dream became getting a PhD, not to invent anything, just to get a PhD.
In Japan you can get a PhD by publishing 5 scientific papers. All over the world, there were approximately 3,000 scientists working to develop blue LEDs, but they were basically all focused on a zinc-selenide composition. Only perhaps 3 or 4 people were focused on gallium nitride (GaN), so Nakamura chose to do research on that as an easy route to publishing 5 scientific papers.
Because a screen would need three colors, he then invented green LEDs in 1995 and the blue, green, and red LEDs could be combined for LED screens — used across industries.
Shuji Nakamura, American now, works at Santa Barbara and is focused on developing a micro-LED display, which is competing with OLEDs. His tech is 3 times brighter and people in the industry consider it a beautiful new option, which Samsung now using the tech — as of March 2018.
He’s also working on laser lighting and considers this to be the future. Some cars — for example, Audis and BMWs — are working them into their headlights. Laser lighting is quite popular among consumers who follow this stuff.
Zach also got to the bottom of an important question — how to pronounce LED. You have to go to the video for that, just past the 10 minute marker.
Back to the LED work, the Nobel Prize website bio on him shares, “In fact, Shuji was gaining precisely the kind of skills that he would later need in his quest to develop a bright blue LED. As a corporate researcher, he would be forced to make or modify much of his own equipment. Ultimately it would largely be this technical mastery that would give him the edge on his rivals.”
Watching the interview with Shuji Nakamura, I wonder if “timing” is significant for all athletes and inventors. He may have gifts in that way that led him to his success story. He shines with vibrancy and a charming prowess that one may find in a combination of his talents.
Below is a list of Nakamura’s many awards, via Wikipedia.
- 2001 — Asahi Prize from the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun
- 2002 — Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics from the Franklin Institute
- 2006 — Finland’s Millennium Technology Prize for his continuing efforts to make cheaper and more efficient light sources
- 2007 — Nominee for the European Inventor Award awarded by the European Patent Office
- 2008 — Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research
- 2008 — Honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
- 2008 — Holst Memorial Lecture Award [Eindhoven University of Technology and Royal Philips Research, the Netherlands]
- 2009 — Harvey Prize from the Technion in Israel
- 2012 — Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association (SVIPLA) Inventor of the Year
- 2014 — Nobel Prize in Physics together with Prof. Isamu Akasaki and Prof. Hiroshi Amano for inventing blue light-emitting diodes
- 2015 — Global Energy Prize for the invention, commercialization, and development of energy-efficient white LED lighting technology
- 2017 — Mountbatten Medal
- 2018 — Zayed Future Energy Prize
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