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Celebrating a year of light

Photograph of Shuji Nakamura

Shuji Nakamura talks to delegates about blue light-emitting diodes.

By Michael Banks in San Antonio, Texas

With 2015 being the International Year of Light it is perhaps the perfect opportunity to have a session at this year’s American Physical Society meeting in San Antonio dedicated to the forefront of optics research.

Yesterday afternoon saw a number of light pioneers update delegates about their research. The session boasted three of last year’s Nobel-prize winners: Stefan Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany; William Moerner of Stanford University; and Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Nakamura, who shared the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics together with Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both of Nagoya University, gave an overview of his research that led to the invention of an efficient blue light-emitting diode (LED). A finding that paved the way for efficient white LEDs.

Nakamura told delegates about how nobody in Japan was initially working on gallium nitride as a possible material to generate blue light, instead most were working with other materials such as zinc selenide. Indeed, at a Japanese Physical Society meeting one year, there were only a handful of people in the audience for a session about gallium-nitride research, compared with hundreds in symposia dedicated to zinc selenide. “This meant that there were no papers published in this area, with not many people working on it, so I could publish any result I got,” noted Nakamura.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Not resting on his laurels, Nakamura is now working on lighting based on white laser diodes, which he says could drastically reduce the size of lighting components – to even much smaller than LED lights. Such laser diodes could also have lifespans of around 50 years. “You wouldn’t have to change it during your lifetime,” he adds.

I caught up with Nakamura after his talk to ask him about his research and life after winning the Nobel prize, so keep an eye out for the interview in an upcoming issue of Physics World.

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One comment to Celebrating a year of light

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