by Ethan Stewart
Responsible for helping multiply CDs’ memory capacity by five, creating streetlamps that don’t attract bugs, and working to bring brighter and more energy-efficient light bulbs to the world, UCSB professor Shuji Nakamura (pictured) was recognized last week by the international scientific community with the 2006 Millennium Technology Award. Nakamura — who has been a Gaucho professor of electrical and computer engineering since 2000 — was given the “Holy Grail of semi-conductor research” for his work with light emitting diodes (LED) and the blue laser diode that reads CDs and DVDs. The biennial award — which includes a $1.3 million cash prize — recognizes technological achievements designed to promote sustainable development and a higher quality of life, both of which Nakamura hopes to achieve with LED light bulbs. LEDs last 100 times longer, emit less heat, and use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Although it has been speculated that a switch to LED bulbs would save American households as much as $35 billion per year in energy bills, they have been kept out of the mainstream by a price tag that is often five times as much as “regular” bulbs. Looking to help spread the LED gospel, Nakamura pledged at last Thursday’s press conference to donate a sizable hunk of the cash prize to nonprofits such as Light up the World and Engineers Without Borders.