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Light lunch with a Nobel prize winner

Nakamura (right) in conversation with Rosenfeld.

Lunchtime chat: Shuji Nakamura (right) in conversation with Scott Rosenfeld.


By Robert P Crease in New York

I seldom go to the Javits Center, New York City’s big, ugly convention space where the food, drinks and parking are way overpriced. Its shows on fashion, furniture and food don’t interest me and it’s a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway station. I once heard comedian Seth Meyer quip that it’s “smack-dab in the middle of New York’s stabbing district”.

On Sunday I went for the first time in years to attend the inaugural lunch of LIGHTFAIR, the world’s largest lighting trade show that draws architects, engineers and designers from all over the world. The featured speaker was Shuji Nakamura, the Japanese-born American materials scientist who shared last year’s Nobel in physics for developing the blue LED. Nakamura described his research path – when he started virtually everyone was working on selenium and he said he chose gallium only because he thought it would make it easier to publish – and was joined on stage by Scott Rosenfeld of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Rosenfeld asked Nakamura questions designed to draw out the more dramatic aspects of his work, such as the fact that it revolutionized the lighting industry – blue LEDs plus the existing red and green LEDs finally made it possible to produce the entire colour wheel of LEDs. “So when I walk down Broadway to Times Square everything that I see glowing is based on your blue LED discovery?” Rosenfeld asked, and Nakamura nodded.

Rosenfeld also got Nakamura to tell the story of getting the news that he had won the Nobel. Every year after 1993 when he made the breakthrough, Nakamura said, Japanese reporters would collect about his house in October just before the announcement, sure that it would go to him. When the announcement finally came in 2014 he said he remembers thinking, “Finally, they’ll go away!”

I was quite dumbfounded by the news that a physics-derived revolution had taken place in the way Times Square was lit in the time I’d been living in New York – and I hadn’t noticed. So after lunch I asked Rosenfeld if it were true that every piece of lighting there came from LEDs. “Every damned thing that glows!” he said, emphasizing each word. “Go to Times Square tonight,” he challenged me, “and try to find a single incandescent light bulb.”

Now, I avoid Times Square as much as I avoid the Javits Center, because it’s always packed with tourists. But I hate it when out-of-towners try to tell me something about my city that I don’t know and is probably correct, so the next time I go I’m determined to hunt down an incandescent light bulb.

This entry was posted in International Year of Light 2015 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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One comment to Light lunch with a Nobel prize winner

  1. M. Asghar

    Robert, you do not have to hurry to the Time square or anywhere else, because the LED-based lamps are coming in “lightningly” everwhere, simply beacuse they consume only about 10 % of electricity compared to the the classical ones – thanks to the luminous LEDists!


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