The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics to three physicists for their invention of the blue light-emitting diodes (LED).
On Tuesday, the Nobel Assembly announced that Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both from Nagoya University in Japan, and Japanese-American scientist Shuji Nakamura, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, will be this year's recipients of the Nobel Prize for dramatically changing lighting technology.
The three physicists came up with a method to produce blue light beams using semiconductors in the early '90s. Their invention paved the way for longer-lasting and more energy-saving sources of white light as well as provided a better alternative to older light sources.
LED is now widely used in data storage, high-speed networking and water purification. Millions of people worldwide also take advantage of the technology as it has made its way into consumer products such as smartphones, lamps and television screens. It also offered an option for generating light with less waste of electrical energy compared with the older incandescent and fluorescent lights.
Fluorescent lamps are more than four times more efficient compared with incandescent lights, but LEDs are about 20 times more efficient than fluorescent bulbs. They do not also pose the same mercury-related health risks associated with fluorescent bulbs and are longer lasting.
"With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources," the assembly said in its press release. "The invention of the blue LED is just 20 years old, but it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all."
Because of its low power requirement, the Nobel assembly said that LEDs have the potential to improve the quality of life of over one billion people worldwide who do not have access to power grids as it can be used to provide lighting using local solar power. In Africa, for instance, where many do not have access to electric power, millions of diode lamps that rely on solar energy have been distributed to replace kerosene lamps.
The assembly also said that the technology helps in saving the world's resources, citing that a quarter of global electric consumption is for lighting purposes.
"Something like a fourth of our electricity consumption in most industrialized economies goes to illumination. So having much more light for much less electricity is going to have a big impact on our modern civilization," said Olle Inganaes, from the Linkoeping University in Sweden.
This year's Nobel Laureates will share the cash prize of $1.1 million.