Published: 14 October 2014

Nobel Prize highlights research at Surrey

The Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to the creators of the now ubiquitous blue LED – an invention which is being further developed at the University of Surrey.

The invention of efficient blue LEDs (light-emitting diodes) has enabled bright, white light sources that last longer and are more energy efficient than conventional light bulbs. This revolutionary technology, developed in the early 1990s, has now been recognised with the award of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to its inventors Professor Isamu Akasaki (of the Universities of Meijo and Nagoya, Japan), Professor Hiroshi Amano (University of Nagoya) and Professor Shuji Nakamura (University of California).

The invention paved the way for research currently being conducted in Surrey’s Department of Physics and ATI (Advanced Technology Institute) in collaboration with NPL (National Physical Laboratory). Working with NPL on a European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) project, Surrey researchers have investigated how LED efficiency can be further improved and have developed new methods for measuring the effect of self-heating on LED-based lighting. This work has been published in the Journal of Display Technology and has led to two patent filings that are being further developed with NPL in an Impact Acceleration Award project.

Professor Stephen Sweeney, Head of the Photonics group, said, “This is a richly deserved award. Professors Nakamura, Akasaki and Amano worked tirelessly over many years to develop the blue light-emitting diode using gallium-nitride-based semiconductors.

“These LEDs are now ubiquitous, with over a billion manufactured per annum, finding their way into low energy light bulbs, LED TVs, large area display boards and even in Christmas tree lights and garden solar lights. In fact, practically every modern artificial white or blue light contains their idea. It is a very clear example of the everyday impact of applied physics.”

The invention of blue LEDs revolutionised the lighting industry because when used in conjunction with a phosphor, they can efficiently produce white light. Other forms use red, green and blue LEDs to additionally provide fine control of the hue of the light. Consisting of a number of layered semiconductor materials, LED lamps are able to directly convert electricity into light unlike conventional incandescent light bulbs, in which most electricity is converted to heat and thus wasted. Since they use little energy, LED lamps can run on stored solar energy, and are improving the lives of people around the world living in areas without access to electricity grids.


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