Isamu Akasaki, 92, dies; Nobel Prize winner lit up the world with LEDs

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Isamu Akasaki, a Japanese physicist who helped develop blue light-emitting diodes, a breakthrough in LED development that won him a Nobel Prize and transformed the way the world is lit, died Thursday in a Nagoya hospital , in Japan. He was 92 years old.

Meijo University in Nagoya, where he had been a professor, said the cause was pneumonia. He was also affiliated with Nagoya University.

Dr Akasaki shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics with Hiroshi Amano from Japan and Shuji Nakamura from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their invention of blue light emitting diodes paved the way for a vast wave of cheaper, more durable, and safer for the environment light sources than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs.

“They succeeded where everyone else failed,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its award citation. “Their inventions were revolutionary.”

Unlike incandescent bulbs, which heat metallic filaments to create energy, and fluorescent lights, which use ionized gas, LEDs are tiny semiconductor chips that emit photons of light when an electric current passes them. is applied.

The first generation LED lights required a combination of red, green, and blue light to produce a familiar white light. While red and green diodes were first developed in the 1950s and 1960s, blue light has proven to be a much more difficult obstacle.

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After RCA’s first work in the late 1960s, Dr. Akasaki began trying to grow high-quality crystals of semiconductor gallium nitride in the early 1970s at the Matsushita Research Institute in Tokyo, a company of electronic. Later, at Nagoya University, he was joined in his research by Dr. Amano, his graduate student at the time.

By the end of the 1980s, they had successfully generated blue light from their chips. Around the same time, Dr Nakamura, working for Nichia Corporation, a chemical company in Tokushima, used their breakthrough to produce a bright blue LED that would eventually allow chips to be applied to lighting.

LEDs have since become ubiquitous, powering everything from flashlights and floor lamps to televisions. They give off much less heat than incandescent bulbs, use much less energy than fluorescents, and last much longer.

Bob Johnstone, tech journalist and author of ‘LED: A History of the Future of Lighting’ (2017), said in an email: ‘The dominant view in the late 1980s was that in Due to the number of defects in the crystal structure of gallium nitride, it would never be possible to make light emitting diodes out of it, so why would you even give it a try? “

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Dr Akasaki, he continued, “was prepared to stick to what was almost universally recognized as a lost cause, working long after RCA researchers and other American LED pioneers in the gallium nitride have given up.

“Eventually,” said Mr. Johnstone, “his persistence – sheer stubbornness – paid off.”

Gerhard Fasol, a physicist with extensive experience in Japanese high technology, said via email that the potential of LEDs is especially great in developing countries without reliable electricity, where “LEDs in combination with batteries and solar cells can greatly improve the quality of life. and education and commerce. “

In 2019, LED products made up nearly 60% of the global lighting market, up from less than 10% in 2010, according to Strategies Unlimited, a Nashville-based market research company. In the United States, LEDs are expected to reach over 80% of all lighting sales by 2030, saving Americans $ 26 billion a year in electricity costs, according to a 2015 report of the Ministry of Energy.

He continued his career in Matsushita before returning to Nagoya University in 1981 as a professor in the electronics department. He was appointed professor emeritus in 1992 and then joined the faculty of Meijo University, also in Nagoya, where he was director of its research center on basic nitride semiconductor technologies. He was still working at the university as recently as 2019.

Dr Akasaki has secured hundreds of patents for his research over the years, and royalties from his groundbreaking work with Dr Amano ultimately funded the construction of a new research institute, the Akasaki Institute at the University of Nagoya, completed in 2006. In addition to his Nobel, he has received many other awards, including the Kyoto Prize in 2009, and was honored by the Japanese Emperor in the Order of Culture in 2011.

He had a wife, Ryoko. Complete information on his survivors was not available.

When asked in a 2016 interview with the Electrochemical Society to summarize the philosophy that guided his many years of purposeful research, Dr Akasaki replied, “No pain, no gain.”

I say this to the youngest: experience is the best teacher, ”he continued. “In other words, sometimes there is no royal road to learning.”

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