2021 QEPrize Winners: LED Lighting

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In this special episode of Create the Future we speak to the winners of the 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the creators of LED lighting.

Solid state lighting technology has changed how we illuminate our world. It can be found everywhere from digital displays and computer screens to handheld laser pointers, automobile headlights and traffic lights. Today’s high-performance LEDs are used in efficient solid state lighting products across the world and are contributing to the sustainable development of world economies by reducing energy consumption.

Hear Nick Holonyak Jr, M. George Craford, Russell Dupuis, and Shuji Nakamura recount tales from the 60-year LED lighting development story, reflect on their individual contributions (and that of fellow winner Isamu Akasaki), and discuss the truly remarkable engineering behind LEDs.


Nick Holonyak Jr highlights

  • “We did some of the first silicon diffused junction devices with an oxide layer. All of that wound up in California and was the basis for the name Silicon Valley.”
  • “I wanted to make a laser that was driven, not by a big intense photographic lamp, but by current directly, and I thought a semiconductor would do it, and it did.”
  • “I was able to work out a simple proof that maybe someone will think of a different way to generate light.”


M. George Craford highlights

  • “If you just have a cube of semiconductor material with light generated at the junction between the p and n-type regions, the light tends to rattle around inside this chip - we sometimes say it's like a graveyard for photons”
  • “Over just a few years we were able to improve the performance of LEDs by about 10 times by using isoelectronic nitrogen.”
  • “Many of today’s LEDs have 100 layers in there, some of the layers just a few nanometers thick. These are complicated structures. There's an unlimited number of combinations you can do to generate the light inside the chip.”


Russell Dupuis highlights

  • On Nick Holonyak Jr: “Without his set of innovations, none of these devices would be here today. His fundamental work in the 1960s and early 70s were the critical ones in getting us where we are today.”
  • “Besides medicine, engineering is the primary field for advancing the human condition. I think for young people, if they have an interest in math and physics and applying those things to those technologies […] it's one of the best careers you can use to contribute to humanity.”
  • “It took a long time for this small niche application of making semiconductors to be attractive enough for some chemists to go and purify these compounds.”


Shuji Nakamura highlights

  • “We initially started selling blue LEDs and then a cell phone company contacted us to make a white LED for the phone’s LCD screen backlight.”
  • “This award is a teamwork award […] all of these people contributed to solid-state lighting. So I am very happy together with my other colleagues.”
  • “We can make white LEDs by mixing yellow and blue light.”


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

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