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October 11, 2014

Life-Changing Innovations Unabated Amid Global Crisis

 Astonishing Innovation Amid Global Crisis
By Martin Denholm, Editor-in-Chief, Wall Street Daily

What a Week ....

The Ebola crisis continues to intensify…

The thugs at ISIS continue to terrorize everyone in sight…

The schizophrenic stock market continues to yank investors through the wringer. The Dow Jones endured its wildest two-day swing in 17 years – rising by 275 points on Wednesday, and then collapsing by 335 points on Thursday. It was the biggest one-day gain and one-day fall all year. No surprise that the VIX Volatility Index (^VIX) has jumped 30% higher since the opening bell on Monday morning.

But amid all the crisis, fear, and panic, it’s comforting to know that incredible, life-changing tech innovations continue unabated.

Like this one…

Long Overdue Recognition for Three Science Geniuses

We all dread getting an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night. It usually means terrible news.
On Tuesday, Professor Shuji Nakamura got that nocturnal call, shaking him from a deep sleep.

However, this was one heck of a wake-up call!

The person on the other end of the line was calling to tell him that he’d won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
“It’s unbelievable,” Nakamura stated.

I’ll say.

Along with his fellow scientists, Professor Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, the three men finally won long-overdue recognition for one of today’s most common inventions.

One that we all take for granted… but was incredibly difficult to achieve for a long time.

Blue light-emitting diodes (LED).

How does this apply to you?

Well, take out your phone and just have a look at the home screen.

Or flip on your television or computer.

The technology that produces the colored LED screens is only possible because of these men.

In addition, blue LEDs laid the foundation for today’s generation of energy-efficient LED lights.

Technology 24 Years in the Making

In awarding the prestigious prize to the three men, the Nobel committee praised their dedication and success against the odds.

You see, while they initially discovered blue LED in 1990, they faced a significant challenge in being able to put the discovery to practical use.

In other words, mix the blue light with existing red and green LEDs to produce the white light that we see in our phones, televisions, computers, and a host of other electric devices, as well as LED light bulbs.

Without the blue light, that technology wouldn’t exist.

Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Professor Per Delsing, applauded the fact that “a lot of big companies really tried to do this and failed. But these guys persisted. They tried and tried again – and eventually succeeded.”

Less Heat, Less Waste… Just More Light

As you know, while traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights get the job done in terms of providing light, they’re also incredibly inefficient. In fact, just 10% of the energy is light, while around 90% of it is lost as heat.
LEDs are different. The electric current cranks through semiconductors, which convert electricity directly into light, while unnecessary heat is bypassed. The light produced depends on the wavelength and makeup of those materials.

Scientists struggled to create enough of the key ingredients needed to turn blue LED into practical use.
Chief among them are crystals of gallium nitride. That was until Akasaki and Amano designed a special sapphire scaffold to grow them, while Nakamura found that experimenting with the temperature multiplied the growth of these crystals.

Between them, the trio had hit the jackpot.

Powering the World

Aside from creating the technology that powers our LED-based electronics, the invention has massive benefits for the energy sector and environment in terms of cutting carbon emissions.

Quoted on the BBC, President of the Institute of Physics, Dr. Frances Saunders, says, “With 20% of the world’s electricity used for lighting, it’s been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to 4%. Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura’s research has made this possible… research that’s having a direct impact on the grandest of scales, helping protect our environment, as well as turning up in our everyday electronic gadgets.”

Given that around 1.5 billion people don’t have reliable electricity or a power grid, LED lights are a huge breakthrough. Not only are they more energy efficient in their general usage, they’re also able to run on solar power.

Indeed, the Nobel committee declared, “Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th Century; the 21st Century will be lit by LED lamps.”

And the scientists’ reward for such monumental, life-changing innovation?

Well, besides the Nobel Prize, they split eight million Swedish kroner between them.

That’s a mere $1.1 million.

Not even close to being enough!

Cheers,

Martin Denholm

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

Courtesy Martin Denholm at Wall Street Daily (EconMatters article archive Here)  

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