Ever wondered what a world without light bulbs would be like? Shuji Nakamura has. Director of the Solid-State Lighting and Energy Center, Nakamura has pioneered the search for alternate sources of light, bringing us closer to such a world. On June 4, the distinguished professor was one of five scientists announced as this year’s winners of the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research. Presented annually, the award recognizes “the individual, work group or institution whose discoveries or research represent a significant contribution to the progress of humanity in the fields of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine, Earth and Space Sciences, as well as their related technical aspects and technologies.” Crown Prince Felipe of Spain, the Prince of Asturias, will present each of the recipients with the awards (along with a specially commissioned Joan Miro sculpture) in October at a ceremony in Spain. They also share a 50,000 ($78,175.52) stipend.
The Asturias Award is not the first acknowledgment of Nakamura’s contributions to light research. In 2006, Nakamura was presented with the Millennium Technology Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Technology. He was only the second winner of the award, the first being Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World-Wide Web.
Nakamura is renowned worldwide for his invention of LEDs (light-emitting diodes), a technology that could potentially replace conventional light bulbs. The green, blue, and white light-emitting diodes produce a light which is almost ten times more efficient than incandescent or fluorescent light. Nakamura also created ultraviolet LEDs that can sterilize water, a significant discovery for developing countries that lack clean sources of drinking water. Among his more recent achievements is the creation of the blue laser diode, a major leap forward in the field of optoelectronics. Blu-ray technology (now so popular in DVDs) stems from the vast data storage capability of this blue laser diode.
In his statement to the press upon announcement of his win, Nakamura highlighted the possible environmental ramifications of LED technology. “I hope this Award helps to raise awareness not only for the potentially substantial global energy savings involved when using LEDs for illumination, but the role that violet laser diodes play in data storage devices. The high efficiency of blue LEDs and white LEDs would save significant energy, thus reducing the associated greenhouse gas emission and possibly reduce global warming effects dramatically.”