In a world suddenly awash with LED light bulbs and fixtures on the market providing stunning white light for homes and businesses, it is easy to forget how recently the only LEDs we laid eyes on were single diode red and green dots blinking at us from instrument panels, most likely 1980s-era audio equipment.
The missing link that took years to develop, with many failures along the way, was the blue LED. Finally in the mid-1990s, three Japanese physicists, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amono and Shuji Nakamura, produced bright blue light from their semi-conductors and helped launch what has become the most significant transformation in lighting since Thomas Edison’s original incandescent bulb. For their significant contribution to long lasting, energy efficient lighting that is changing the way buildings are illuminated around the world, they share the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The invention of the blue light emitting diode made solid state white light possible. Mix blue with red and green LEDs and the result is bright white light. Blue was the holy grail for moving LEDs from a bit role in instrument panels, to the prime time of illuminating building facades, bridges, monuments, art galleries, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes. Now, for a few dollars, anyone can purchase a strip of blue LEDs, or get RGB color-changing LED lights that can set to white, blue, red, green, or any hue imaginable.
After the breakthrough by these Nobel winners, it took a decade or so of improvements until today LED white light has achieved over 300 lumens per watt, compared to incandescent at 16 lumens per watt and fluorescent at 80 lumens per watt.
The blue light emitting diode, just 20 years old, has revolutionized lighting and established the LED as the prospective dominant light source of the 21st century. And the contribution of the invention of the blue LED will lead to far more than a change in lighting; for communities without adequate access to the energy necessary to power inefficient lighting technology, white LEDs light, according to the Nobel Prize website, “holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids.”
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