UCSB professor Shuji Nakamura wins Queen Elizabeth Prize
In a Japanese lab nearly 30 years ago, a revolutionary innovation was born.
After years of trial and error, Japanese engineer and current UCSB professor Shuji Nakamura developed the blue LED light, a highly sought engineering development that would forever change the future of solid-state lighting.
It was lighting that did not require the electrical filaments found in incandescent lights for power.
Using gallium nitrate (GaN) crystals, Dr. Nakamura’s 1993 discovery paved the way for the development of not only blue LEDs, but the creation of the revolutionary white LED that now powers society’s high-tech lighting and displays.
LED light is utilized in a number of ways in the modern-day, from powering Christmas lights to illuminating computer screens and iPhones.
Since the creation of the first red LED (light-emitting diode) in the 1960s, LED lights have been largely regarded as the future of energy-efficient lighting.
LEDs produce light by passing energy through a semiconductor (like a diode). When powered by electricity, the LED emits light. In comparison to traditional light bulbs, which utilizes electrical wiring and heat to produce light, the white LED remains cool and uses less energy.
Dr. Nakamura’s invention earned him many accolades and rewards since its initial creation in the early 1990s. In 2014, Dr. Nakamura and his colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the blue LED.
And just recently, Dr. Nakamura and other LED pioneers received the 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
“I was so surprised and so happy,” Dr. Nakamura told the News-Press, adding that he felt honored to be recognized by such a famous international figure. “It’s the most popular name all over the world, and I became so excited and so happy because this is a very prestigious award.”
Dr. Nakamura, alongside LED pioneers Isamu Akaski, Nick Holonyak, Jr., M. George Craford and Russell Dupris, were awarded “not only for the global impact of LED and solid-state lighting but also for the tremendous contribution the technology has made and will continue to make, to reducing energy consumption and addressing climate change,” the QEPrize Foundation said.
According to the foundation, LED lighting is 75% more efficient than traditional fluorescent bulbs and lasts 25 times longer than traditional bulbs.
Currently, Dr. Nakamura is a materials professor in the USCB College of Engineering. Advances in engineering are a driving force for the improvement of human life, Dr. Nakamura said.
“I think engineering is very important to improving human life because in engineering you have to make some sort of project,” Dr. Nakamura said. “It brings great improvement to human life.”
A number of Dr. Nakamura’s colleagues commended the engineer for receiving the Queen Elizabeth Prize this year, reflecting on his revolutionary discovery that illuminated the world in ways never before seen.
“Our campus is overjoyed that Professor Nakamura, along with four other colleagues, has received this international prize that is among the top engineering awards in the world, recognizing their transformational innovation that is of monumental benefit to humankind,” UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said in a statement.
He added, “LED-based solid-state illumination is now widely deployed and realizing huge energy savings, (like) reducing greenhouse gases that are impacting climate change and helping to create sustainable lighting for the developing world.”
Steven DenBaars, a fellow engineering professor at UCSB, said in a statement that Dr. Nakamura’s accomplishments have resulted in a “10-fold” increase in energy-efficient lighting and are helping to pave the way to a significant drop in U.S. energy consumption.
The winners of the Queen Elizabeth Prize will be honored in a ceremony later this year and will be awarded a monetary prize of 1 million pounds.
“This year’s prize winners have not only helped humanity to achieve a greater degree of mastery over the environment, they have enabled us to do so in a sustainable way,” Lord Browne of Madingley, chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize Foundation, said in a statement. “They have created a product which we now take for granted, but which will play a major role in ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature for many more centuries to come.”