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Shuji Nakamura Awarded the 2006 Millennium Prize 141

Mictian writes "University of California professor Shuji Nakamura, the japanese inventor of the bright green, white and blue GaN LEDs and a blue laser, has been awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize. While blue LEDs are considered cool and thus needful things by most nerds, Nakamura adapted his blue LEDs to make a blue laser in the mid 90s. The next generation optical storage formats, HD-DVD and BluRay, are of course both based on blue laser. Also, his white LEDS need far less energy than normal incandescent lamps and can thus provide plenty of opportunity for energy-saving in the industrialized world. But probably the most significant future application for Shuji Nakamura's invention comes in the form of sterilizing drinking water, since the the water purification process can be made cheaper and more efficient with the use of ultraviolet LEDs. This can improve the lives and health of tens of millions people in developing countries."
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Shuji Nakamura Awarded the 2006 Millennium Prize

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  • maybe someday I can microwave food with some leds instead of that big, ugly magnetron?
    • by grammar fascist ( 239789 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:23PM (#15546205) Homepage
      maybe someday I can microwave food with some leds instead of that big, ugly magnetron?

      I want them implanted in my fingers so I can find light switches in the dark.
    • But within several years time we'll probably find appliances shifting over to LED interior lighting. It'll be great once LEDs overtake flourescents in power efficiency, which we are on the cusp of now -- by the time I'm 80 I hope to have totally forgotten how to change a lightbulb.
      • Re:probably not... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:33PM (#15546501) Journal
        All the new traffic lights in Victoria (Aus) are built with LED's now. You can tell the difference -- because they use the same switch gear as before, the time lag built in to the control systems to let the incandescents glow down manifests as a few milliseconds of all-lamps-off. Takes a moment to get used to it, but you're very aware of lights changing -- I think it's safer that way, myself. I think it's done with filters over those brilliant white LEDs. We also use variable speed limit signs built with switching arrays of LEDs in crowded shopping areas, used to switch speeds according to traffic conditions & time of day. So there's a good application in use today -- lowering road aggro and maybe even saving a life or two, while lowering energy costs at the same time. High-class geekery, that, and one worth the round of applause.
        • I'm glad this guy got acknowledged for his bright idea.
          ba-dum dum. Couldn't.... resist..... pun.




          Debt help [debtishell.com]
        • One of the main reasons, other than not having to change them nearly as often, for using LEDs in traffic lights is that they are monocromatic: if you have a white light behind a colored filter, you're throwing most of your power into heating the filter. Colored lights are the one application where LEDs are already more efficient than flourescents. So much so that newer lights in remote areas can be cheaply solar powered, which in many situations saves you money when considering the cost of running electri
          • Pretty much all the traffic and warning signs use LEDs in the UK.

            All the warning signs, like "2.5m height limit! Turn left!", are powered by solar panels and windmills.

            It's all a welcoming sight for me. More of the same please.
          • Actually, the recent energy bill banned the manufacture and import of parts for incandescent signals in the United States as of January 1, 2006. Existing stocks may be used until they run out, but the upgrade to LED signal tech makes sense. One of my co-workers is a councilman for a small municipality with one traffic signal. The recently converted it to LED. He forwarded us the e-mail from the Public Works department telling that the power bill for the signal was $30 for a month of LED instead of the $150
            • Are these LEDs a screw-in replacement or are they more complicated. Also by have the existing stacks clause, I expect it'll be a long time before the LEDs are wide-spread,incandescent traffic signal bulbs laast a hell of a lot longer than anything I've been able to buy for use in the house.

              • Originally I believe they were offered as a "forklift upgrade", but now are available as screw-in units at least for some models.

                If a town is cash-strapped the best thing for them to do is replace all the red bulbs first, then the green, and the yellow at their leisure. The red bulbs are cheapest and on average they are turned on the most. Once they are replaced the savings from them can be applied towards the more expensive green bulbs. Really power wise most yellow lights aren't that economical to repl
            • as the LED lamps essentially do not need to be replaced. Incandescent lamps not only use more electricity, they have a much shorter life. The city will be saving $1200 a year in electricity, plus the cost of replacing the lamps every couple of years.

              I am really pleased to see these taking off--better for the environment on two fronts (longer life, lower power consumption) and nifty tech that I used to fiddle around with as a kid. Anyone else remember the books you could get at Radio Shack that had electroni
        • Why would they build them with filters? I've only seen a couple of new traffic lights around Sydney to use them, and both of them have used red/green LEDs (unless they were really sneaky and put a small filter over each LED individually. Likewise the signal lights used on the Cityrail network are being replaced with LEDs and these are individual reds/greens too. The guard lights (on the station platforms) are an array of white and blue (they replace white globes with Fresnel lensing) for some reason, but st
        • The interesting thing about LED traffic lights in Britain, is they actually simulate the glow down of the old incandescent! Instead of going from on to off instantly, the LEDs are dimmed over a period of about half a second to give the effect of the old incandescent lamps. They don't bother doing this for the turn on though (presumably because the turn on even with an incandescent is almost instant).
          • Turn-on of incandescents is not instant. It's almost unnoticeable except with very high power incandescents (such as stage lights), but even for low power incandescents, it is enough to make a subconscious difference. I believe studies into benefits of LED brake lights showed that the instant turnon of LED brake lights was equivalent to a full car length's worth of reaction time at highway speeds.

            Also, at least in the past, while LED traffic lights do save power, their primary benefit has been their long
        • You can tell the difference -- because they use the same switch gear as before, the time lag built in to the control systems to let the incandescents glow down manifests as a few milliseconds of all-lamps-off. Takes a moment to get used to it, but you're very aware of lights changing -- I think it's safer that way, myself.

          That's because people in Australia are apparently actually taught how to drive. When I was back in New Orleans last month, I think I counted 6 or 7 close calls when driving through inters
    • Mmmm soylent blue food. Yum
    • Actually, GaN is a promising material for high power solid state microwave devices - it might replace the cooker magnetron someday.

      I believe, however, that the magnetron in a microwave is made in china, and costs $6, so it might be a while before it's replace with solid state.

  • Hmm... (Score:1, Funny)

    So this is who started all those ugly HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray wars?

    Download bC3 chat client - now supporting Macintosh OS X! [basicreations.com]

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:25PM (#15546212) Homepage Journal
    ...for whom the patent system was created. All of his works are absolutely ubiquitous now in our world.
  • Why can't there be a prize for flaming on slashdot?
    • There is, they're called "flamebait" & "troll".
      Kinda like winning a bag of cow manure, only, not being a gardener.
  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:30PM (#15546230) Homepage
    I hate those blue LEDs that are on every damn bit of electronics these days. So many manufacturers don't bother to tone it down, so you have all these power indicators that can light up the damn room. Especially irritating if they're flashing, like when my laptop is suspended.

    Oh, and backlit cellphone keypads, blue? Worst idea ever. Blue is the about the hardest color to get your eyes to focus on.

    So many designers have no sense of aesthetics. They just go with the trend du jour.
    • Un-toned-down blue LEDs are a pet peeve of mine, too... as an example, my old Shuttle SK41G, a small-form-factor PC that would have otherwise made a decent MythTV box, has this incredibly frickin' bright blue power indicator.

      Shuttle must have learned the lesson, because my new SN21G5 cube has much more pleasant indicators on the front panel - although the power light is still blue, it isn't obnoxious.
      • My Shuttle box actually has a BIOS setting for the LED level (including completely off). But I agree it's annoying. I once bought a cheapo toaster at Target, unpacked it, and found that it had an ALWAYS ON blue LED. Naturally I returned it.
        • You're telling me. I bought a cheap alarm clock at radio shack and the screen is lit by blue leds bright enough to read by. Nothing like a floodlamp next to your head while you're sleeping.
      • Un-toned-down blue LEDs are a pet peeve of mine, too... as an example, my old Shuttle SK41G, a small-form-factor PC that would have otherwise made a decent MythTV box, has this incredibly frickin' bright blue power indicator.
        That's what electrical tape is for.
      • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:36PM (#15546510) Journal
        ...has this incredibly frickin' bright blue power indicator...

        Duct tape, my friend. Duct tape. Cut it into little tiny bunny shapes and paste it over the indicators. Problem solved.

    • The Gateway FPD2185 widescreen LCD has the option to dim / put in night mode the blue led that makes the power button glow.
    • I find most of the time that red LEDs are much more pleasing than those nasty blue LEDs all over consumer electronics stuff. I think the reason why so many manufacturers put those god awful things in is because it doesn't require any design work to make it "fit" (and think: 'lower costs, too!'). "Oh, we'll just use lots of blue LEDs and surround it with as much faux silver as we can... that'll make it look futuristic and cool!"
    • LED toner downer [wikipedia.org]

      LED turner offer [hobbyengineering.com]

      KFG
      • Yeah, that's the trick to feeling good about your shiny new hardware...
        • by kfg ( 145172 ) * on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:41PM (#15546527)
          It ain't really hardware yet 'til it's got some duct tape on it. 'Til then it's just a poser toy.

          KFG
        • Actually, the tape idea can be done right: my bedroom PC audio system has an obnoxiously bright LED that puts out an amazing amount of light for being only 1/16" wide. So much that it can disturb one's sleep. So I taped it with some "labelling tape" which is a opaque colored thick plastic tape -- I used the same color as the LED and it looks just fine. The tape is translucent enough that the LED shines through just enough to tell that it is on.

          You can get the labelling tape in any decent stationary store
    • Agreed. I keep duct tape over the blue LEDs on my Altec Lansing subwoofer and Linksys phone adapter, but they still light up the entire room.
    • He's not responsible for which lights get put in what devices. Don't buy the gadgets if you don't like them, and if there aren't alternatives then complain to motorola or dell or whoever. Personally I don't find it a problem (although on my Antec Sonata case I just disconnected the headlight LEDs from the mobo when it was in my dormroom.) I find LED tech of ANY color to be awesome; my full praise goes to Nakamura's ultra-hard-rocking ingenuity.
    • The only bit of blue gear I really hate is the reciever on my Logitech z680's. I don't mind the power indicator... its the bloody display, and its BLINDING blue backlight. ARGH! The thing is im-friggin-possible to read unless you're two feet away and staring at it head on. And at night (sometimes I listen to podcasts before bed) it lights up my whole damn room. Sucks, but I gotta live with it. *Sigh*

      Other than that though, none of my blue LED goodies (and I seem to have a lot... cases, thumb drives, monit
    • This seems to be a common complaint from people around here. Whats funny is that I went and replaced my power/disk lights on my case a while ago with a blue light for the power indicator (it ended up being a fairly weak aqua color, which is ok) and a ultra bright (didn't know about the ultra bright part when I bought it) white light for the disk access indicator. I usually have the computer in my room and leave it on overnight to do video processing, which as you can imagine, requires a lot of disk access.
      • You might be able to get by the problem of the too-bright LED by soldering a resistor (I've found one about 330 ohms works well in a lot of cases) in series with the LED. As for the dim blue one, it may be one that may require a higher voltage to work well. The blue ones I have specify 5 volts as nominal, while other types like red, green or amber need somewhere around 3. Depending on the type, they may be under or over driven. The blue one may be only getting 3 and glowing dim, but the white one may be get
    • I have a friend with a computer so bright that its lights are visible outside his house on his garage. Ridiculous.
    • I love the color blue, yet I have to agree with you. My friend has speakers with a blue LED light on them that is so bight. The speakers are next to the monitor so this light is shining right in your eyes and it's just annoying.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:36PM (#15546260)
    ...which is phenomenal and well-deserving of the prize, but why the comparison to incandescent bulbs for large-scale energy savings? Flourescent lightss, including full-spectrum lights that produce better quality light than most incadescent bulbs, are much more efficient than incandescents, too, for their output; my understanding is that White LED lights are now somewhat more efficient even than flourescents, which is the real reason they offer a big step forward in terms of large-scale energy savings (plus, they are much easier to make very small, which is good for lots of applications where flourescent lights aren't really well suited, but that's not going to be the source of enormous energy savings.)
    • It's not just the saving in energy consumption, either. LED-based lightbulb alternatives generally have lifespans in the tens of thousands of hours, compared to around 1000 hours for a good quality incandescent bulb. Most of the LED bulbs that I've seen have around 50,000 to 60,000 hour lifespans, which if you do some quick maths will work out to around 6 years of constant use. They're a lot more expensive than a single incandescent bulb, but if you actually sit down and figure everything else, the equivale
    • I don't really care for the fluorescent bulb replacement for the house. They don't look quite right. Maybe I am just used to the yellowish glow of incandescent, but fluorecent lights are just too harsh. Even the ones that are supposed to be "soft." I imagine LEDs would be simlar if my LED flashlight is any gauge.

      -matthew
      • I don't really care for the fluorescent bulb replacement for the house. They don't look quite right. Maybe I am just used to the yellowish glow of incandescent, but fluorecent lights are just too harsh. Even the ones that are supposed to be "soft." I imagine LEDs would be simlar if my LED flashlight is any gauge.

        Though this is drifting a bit afield, I personally like the ones that are enclosed in an outer frosted casing, particularly the ones I have in recessed ceiling floodlights in my house (the bare on

      • Heh, I have the opposite opinion of flourescents. I've put them all over my apartment and love the light quality (as in color and brightness). I notice regular incandescent bulbs now by their (to me) gloomy yellow light. The natural light incandescent bulbs are different of course. But I really don't like those standard yellow-light bulbs.

        I think we can both agree that the range of choice available is a great thing. You like one type, I like a completely different type, and for various purposes there are

      • I've been using LEDs for indoor lighting for something like ten years now, but I don't generally use them "naked." I usually make Japanese style laterns with them and can use various paper colors as a filter to get something other than harsh white light, which I reserve for spot lighting where needed.

        One of the things I like best about LEDs is that their low power use means it's really practical to go wireless with batteries, without the mess inherent with oil lamps (which I still love, in part for the warm
    • LEDs also don't emit toxic gas when smashed (although their disposal probably isn't super friendly to the environment).
      • One of my friends emits toxic gas when smashed.
      • although their disposal probably isn't super friendly to the environment
        Not to mention their manufacture which as with all semiconductors is really icky.

        I don't know about the impact of fluorescent tubes (or conventional incandescent lamps for that matter) though.
      • I did some research on this a while back. First off, the gas in fluorescents is not a problem. It's a mixture of noble gasses so it's non-reactive. The only issue is that in really high concentrations it will displace oxygen in your lungs so you suffocate (Trivia: the cure is to hang upside down, since argon is heavier than air and can settle in the lungs). Some lamps may contain PCB's or other nasty toxins in the ballasts, but not in the bulbs, and not in compact fluorescent lamps. The primary chemical of
    • I love daylight florescent lights, I use them at my desk and, to many people's surprise, in my bedroom. Once you get used to the blue, I find it much more pleasant then the yellow tint of the standard kind, especially to augment daylight. Fact is though, that even their ability to render colors properly is inferior to a plain old generic incandescent light bulb (http://www.sizes.com/units/CRI.htm). The color temperature rating on florescent and even gas discharge lamps is just an approximation of true black
    • You mean those organic lights, made from grain?

      Oh, fluorescents. Sorry.
    • Yeah, save some bread ! Buy flourescents !

      (sorry)
  • Deserving (Score:5, Informative)

    by jet_silver ( 27654 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:39PM (#15546274)
    Shuji Nakamura got boned by his employer Nichia, and it's got to feel sweet for him that he's getting recognized for his work anyway.

    "The court actually valued Nakamura's contribution to the company at 60.4 billion yen, based on Nichia's sales and the revenue that it might theoretically have received from licensing a key patent relating to the epitaxial growth of LED material."

    http://www.ledsmagazine.com/articles/news/2/1/5/1 [ledsmagazine.com]
    • My uncle Al got boned by his department head once upon a time. This led to his getting boned by the Nobel Committee, despite the fact that uncle Al, like Nakamura, was given a settlement (out of court) on the royalties and a public statement asserting that he was rightful codiscoverer, published in the NY Times.

      The Nobel Committee has never recognized the error, but at least ten years before he died he received the Rutgers Medal from the university at which he had done the research, from which he gained som
  • by Freaky Spook ( 811861 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @10:40PM (#15546279)
    A few years ago I invested in a white LED headlight/torch for when I would go camping.

    I got almost 2 years out of a set of 3 AAA batteries, the light itself provided excellent light at night and stayed bright up until the batteries were noticably dying.

    It was one of the most practical investments I ever made.
    • I agree. And these headlights are much cheaper now that they were then. A must have gadget.
  • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:09PM (#15546401)
    "But probably the most significant future application for Shuji Nakamura's invention comes in the form of sterilizing drinking water, since the the water purification process can be made cheaper and more efficient with the use of ultraviolet LEDs. This can improve the lives and health of tens of millions people in developing countries."

    This is absurd. No one with even the slightest clue about such things would ever make such a statement. Nakamura's blue and UV GaN/InGaN/AlInGaN leds and laser diodes are great but they will not be used for this purpose. The all emit in the near UV [wikipedia.org] (350 nm or greater) this sucks for killing microorganisims. You want to cause a kink in a bacteria's dna by dimerizing adjacent thymine molecules [wikipedia.org], thus inhibiting replication. The germicidal efficacy curve which describes this phenomenon peaks at 260nm [emperoraquatics.com] way below any LED with any kind of reasonable efficiency. A tenuous mercury plasma in a quartz bulb [emperoraquatics.com] however, will blast out something like over 80% of its light right at this wavelength! There is no way you are going to beat the hugely efficient and dirt cheap germicidal uv lamps already on the market any time soon.
  • Call his agent. I'll send him an email once the sun recharges my Powerbook's battery.
  • Doesn't ultraviolet radiation/light ionize air and kill or seriously mutate living cells?

    Imagine a beowulf of these things (like those stupid looking infrared leds for infrared-sensitive CCD/CMOS cameras), ionizing the air into which an electric current is conducted, igniting the ionized air into a plasma which can then be shaped with small electromagnets.

    Isn't this essentially how the Deep Space 1 ion-drive propulsion works?

    Gimme a few hundred thousand of these UV LEDs, some SPF999, and I'll be running thi
  • by BitwizeGHC ( 145393 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:26PM (#15546466) Homepage
    Time to call the Cheat Commandos and ROCK, ROCK ON!
  • by krunk4ever ( 856261 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @12:21AM (#15546675) Homepage
    To be clear, she's a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) [wikipedia.org] and not University of California, which is usually associated with Berkeley, being the 1st UC in the state.
  • ... manufacturers wouldn't keep putting high-intensity LEDs in the most ludicrous places. I have a cheapo laminator with a clear plastic handle on top, and embedded in the handle are two of the brightest blue LEDs I have ever seen. They're pointing straight up, which is exactly where my eyes are when I'm trying to feed a sheet of paper into the machine. Of all the stupid gonzo designs...
    Anyway, nine layers of masking tape and a liberal application of black texta later these LEDs are barely enough to light
  • Now we're handing over prestigious awards to case modders.
  • by Stavr0 ( 35032 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @08:15AM (#15548050) Homepage Journal
    Also, his white LEDS need far less energy than normal incandescent lamps and can thus provide plenty of opportunity for energy-saving in the industrialized world.

    Third world too, Dr. Dave Irvine-Halliday sent white LEDs to Nepal, India and Sri-Lanka. A whole village can be illuminated with 100W.
    Light Up The World Foundation [lutw.org]
    Dr. Irvine-Halliday at Rolex Awards [rolexawards.com]

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Friday June 16, 2006 @09:10AM (#15548438)
    Forgive my geek-quotient, but by-golly, I LOVE the white LED.

    Bare moments after they hit the market in the form of flashlights, I ordered at a ludicrously expensive bleeding-edge price the veritable Alpha-Male of the species; a phallic light-thrower which takes three 'D' cells and powers an array of 10 white LEDs. It's super-bright and it will run continuously for something like 3 solid months. Who needs a sports car?

    --And because I am confident in my masculinity, I also bought and primarily use a much smaller one with a single LED. Oh god, it's sweet! Super-bright, it runs forever on a triple 'A' cell. I use that thing all the time. Not like the cute but ultimately annoying mini-mag, which ran down after twenty minutes. --I always felt slightly stressed while using that thing for any work. Instead of focusing 100% of my attention on the task it was illuminating, I'd have a little part of my mind worrying, "Oh no! My flashlight is going to die soon!"

    Of course, with the far superior LED flashlight replacement, I now find myself distracted spending a sizable percentage of my brain thinking, "Wow! This is just the coolest flashlight on the planet!"

    Indeed. White LEDs are the first bit of new technology which actually made me sit up and say, "Holy Awesomeness, Batman! I NEED one of those for my belt!" since. . , well, I can't actually remember the last bit of engineering which I absolutely had to run out and buy.

    Oooh, scratch that. I DO remember. It was one of those extendable lightsaber toys when they first hit the market. They were painfully neat in an almost perfect kind of way. (That 8 inches of saber sticking out of the handle when the blade was retracted was dumb, but whatever). I broke mine open and installed extra lightsaber sounds, activated by a handy button so I could deflect pretend blaster bolts at a thumb press. Sooo proud of that. (Hm. Another phallic device. I wonder what's up with that. . .)

    A close runner-up invention in terms of coolness is the flatscreen monitor. They're exceptionally wonderful, (bright, no EM radiation, they don't make any electronic whining sound on the upper end of audio perception, and they're, well, FLAT!), except they didn't hit the market in an exciting burst of newness. They sort of arrived and sucked, then got slowly better and more affordable over a 15 year period. Can you imagine how exciting they would have been if they just suddenly showed up with no warning?

    I guess the MP3 was another really neat innovation. Heck. That drove the world stark-raving-giddy for almost two years. Remember Napster? Sheesh! The world is still trying to recover its senses.

    And before that. . . Well, I guess the CD was pretty darn cool. The recordable option was exciting. That changed the world as well. As did PacMan and Space Invaders down at the K-Mart entrance during the 80's.

    The Mountain Bike was pretty great, too. And so was the mini-Leatherman folding pliers. (The really small one which folds up to the size of a zippo.) I still have and my original pair bought when Leatherman was a new company back in the early nineties and use it regularly.

    But none of those things excited me quite like the white LED. White LEDs are beautiful in their simplicity.

    The only thing that annoys me about any of this is that I'm getting excited about weenie technology. --The MIC keeps all the really cool inventions from ever being released. We only get these safe little inventions which can't upset the balance of power and money distribution in the world. Ah well. At least we have cool flashlights!


    -FL

    • Slow down and breath, buddy.
      • Slow down and breath, buddy.

        Ah. Sneering humor for no good reason.

        Let me guess. You were one of those guys who sat at the back of the class and despised anybody who enjoyed life, participation and enthusiasm, because you never managed to overcome your own internal fears and shyness, etc., and so rather than encouraging others, tried to defuse any possible rogue happiness in the air so that you might control the emotional flow of the room. To stay on top. To stay 'safe', as it were.

        Typically guys like th
  • I haven't kept up with the latest Luxeon LEDs but the last I knew, halogens were still more efficient in terms of lumens per watt. The mercury discharge lamps used in some car and bicycle headlights are even more efficient.
  • Blue LEDS? OMG purty colours! Perhaps the new Slashdot skin could be OMG Ponies! only the ponies would have blue LEDs for the eyes? It'll be like dropping acid, only without the flashbacks!

    Seriously though I do have a question, FTFA:

    Professor Nakamura's next step was to add a novel phosphor to his blue chip to obtain white light.

    My question is simple. Does the phosphor wear out over time (like in CRTs) where the brightness and color will shift over time?

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