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The Breakdown

The Breakdown: Nobel Prize Recognizes LED Technology and Impact

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The research of three scientists is now lighting up streets, homes, and screens everywhere.

The News
On October 7 the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, who created the first blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The three scientists began their work around the same time but in different locations using different methods. Akasaki and Amano worked together at Nagoya University in Japan, while Nakamura worked alone at Nichia Chemicals. Interestingly, Nakamura found a different solution than Akasaki and Amano.

While the three worked on creating blue LEDs, red LEDs had already been used in digital watches and calculators as on/off indicators, and green LEDs had already been produced. Without their blue counterpart, red and green LEDs could not combine to create white-light LEDs now used in television and smartphone screens, and in bulbs to light our homes.

What It Means
Awarding the Nobel prize for blue LEDs highlights how impactful this technology is and how far it’s come since the early 1990s, when the prize-winners completed their research. Their promise lies in their extraordinary efficiency. LED lamps require far less power than incandescent and fluorescent light sources and produce far more light comparatively. They do this by directly converting electricity into light energy, while incandescent and halogen light is indirectly created by using electricity to heat a wire filament (some energy is lost through heat, making these lighting options more inefficient than LEDs). LEDs also last longer than their competitors. On average, incandescent bulbs last 1,000 hours, while fluorescent lamps last 10,000 hours. In comparison, LEDs are known to last around 100,000 hours — approximately 23 years’ worth of household use.

What You Can Do

  • Take the plunge and make the switch. LED bulbs are slightly more expensive than the alternatives, but they last significantly longer and require less power to run.
  • Invest in LED flashlights. Unlike conventional flashlights, which never seem to work when you need them, you’ll be able to rely on them for years to come. Keep a spare package of batteries with your flashlights so you’ll be prepared when the batteries die.
  • LEDs don’t burn out, but they get dimmer and dimmer over time. Once they’ve dimmed to the point of replacement, you can recycle them by dropping them off at certain Batteries Plus locations (call ahead first) and some specialty recyclers. LEDs do not contain mercury like fluorescent and CFL bulbs do, so they can be put in the trash if you are unable to recycle them.

BBC News
Scientific American
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Rethink Recycling

Do you use LED bulbs in your home? Tell us how in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Morgan West
Morgan West
Morgan West works for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. more