New Nobel physics laureate Shuji Nakamura never imagined that his revolutionary blue LED project would have such an impact on science and commerce, according to Optics.org. He explains that in a visit to Florida, his first trip outside his native Japan, he realized that he needed postgraduate qualification in order to have a successful research career. In Japan, that meant publishing five or six articles in reputable science journals. And so, in pursuing his PhD, Nakamura revolutionized the lighting world.
Using gallium nitride, earlier researchers failed to grow sufficiently large, defect-free crystals that would emit enough light. Nakamura’s work proved that it could be done and that the GaN LED could have a substantial impact on commercial lighting production, which is unusual for Nobel-prizewinning technologies.
After enjoying his brief taste of freedom in the United States and frustrated with Nichia, his Japanese employer at the time, he became interested in starting his own company. This interest also motivated his work on the blue LED. In Japan, there was slim possibility that he could start his own company, due to the discrimination and strict expectations for corporate employees in Japan.
The commercial lighting industry is currently in transition. The LED market was already worth $17.7 billion and had created 250,000 jobs by the end of 2013, according to analyst company IHS, but jobs are also being lost from traditional incandescent bulb manufacturing. The LED lighting market is still only in its early stages of development, and it is well positioned for growth due to increasing demand for efficient lighting technologies. The market is expected to evolve over the next decade.
Nakamura is co-founder of Soraa and has placed himself in the “GaN-on-GaN” camp, where the light-emitting semiconductor layers are grown on a native substrate. “In the U.S., you can do anything,” he said, “But you have to work hard.” Nakamura is now working hard at the commercial application of his revolutionary technology.