A Global Honor for LED Technology Pioneers

2021 02 qeprize.jpgAuthor: Al Uszynski

Scientists Awarded The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering “for the creation and development of LED lighting.”

Years ago, I attended an alumni event at my alma mater’s engineering school during which the Dean, Dr. Robert Lynch, recapped some of the greatest inventions of all time.  The list included items like the microprocessors, air conditioning and airplanes.  All great choices – and notably, sliced bread wasn’t on the list.

In recent years, the proliferation of LEDs in many applications, including general and specialty lighting, have caused the world to acknowledge and appreciate the technology that is currently the key component of our industry.  The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources."

This week, another prestigious award was presented to LED technology pioneers.  Five scientists, including four Americans, received The 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering “for the creation and development of LED lighting, which forms the basis of all solid state lighting technology.”  According to the organizers, the QEPrize is “the world's most prestigious engineering accolade.”  The biennial £1 million prize promotes excellence in engineering and celebrates engineering’s visionaries.

Shuji Nakamura, who was one of the 2014 Nobel Prize recipients, shares this year’s QEPrize with Isamu Akasaki, Nick Holonyak Jr, M. George Craford and Russell Dupuis.

Congratulations to the award recipients.  It’s fantastic to see the world of science continue to recognize the significance and importance of LED technology.  And maybe, just maybe, the LED will someday be cited by Deans of Engineering as one of mankind’s greatest inventions.


Here's the announcement from the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation:

LED Lighting Development Wins 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize)


Isamu Akasaki, Shuji Nakamura, Nick Holonyak Jr, M. George Craford and Russell Dupuis awarded the world's most prestigious engineering accolade.


LONDON, Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The 2021 QEPrize is awarded for the creation and development of LED lighting, which forms the basis of all solid state lighting technology. Isamu Akasaki, Shuji Nakamura, Nick Holonyak Jr, M. George Craford and Russell Dupuis are recognised not only for the global impact of LED and solid state lighting but also for the tremendous contribution the technology has made, and will continue to make, to reducing energy consumption and addressing climate change. 

First awarded in 2013 in the name of Her Majesty The Queen, the QEPrize exists to celebrate ground-breaking innovation in engineering. The 2021 winners are announced today by Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. HRH The Princess Royal shared a message of congratulation for the winners.

Solid state lighting technology has changed how we illuminate our world. It can be found everywhere from digital displays and computer screens to handheld laser pointers, automobile headlights and traffic lights. Today's high-performance LEDs are used in efficient solid state lighting products across the world and are contributing to the sustainable development of world economies by reducing energy consumption. 

Visible LEDs are now a global industry predicted to be worth over $108 billion by 2025 through low cost, high efficiency lighting. LED lighting is 75% more energy efficient than traditional incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, and is playing a crucial role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. LED bulbs last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and their large-scale use reduces the energy demand required to cool buildings. For this, they are often referred to as the 'green revolution' within lighting. 

"Engineering is imperative to solving human problems. All over the world, everyone knows the QEPrize. Most importantly, this is a team prize. I was able to do what I did in the 1980s, because of what had come before. When I was modifying reactors every morning and every afternoon continuously for a year and a half, I never thought it would be so successful."- Professor Shuji Nakamura

"This is a really special moment for me. The QEPrize is so prestigious and it is spectacular to receive recognition from The Royal Family. It is a career highlight that is impossible to beat. Engineering is incredible, and I am proud to part of something that has made such a big impact on the world." - Dr George Craford

"It is really something to share in this award win among my friends and colleagues – all five of us each played an important role, and this recognition means an awful lot. In those early days, when it was long days and nights hand-building reactors, Nick Holonyak mentored us. He really drew us in and inspired us to be part of the adventure that is engineering." - Professor Russell Dupuis

"This year's Prize winners have not only helped humanity to achieve a greater degree of mastery over the environment, they have enabled us to do so in a sustainable way. They have created a product which we now take for granted, but which will play a major role in ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature for many more centuries to come." - Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation

"The impact of this innovation is not to be understated. It makes lighting a lot cheaper and more accessible for emerging economies. For example, LEDs are being used on fishing boats where previously the only option would have been paraffin lamps. They are much cheaper and safer. It is not only an extreme engineering achievement, but a societal impact that has a significant impact on the environment." - Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Chair of the QEPrize Judging Panel

The winners will be formally honoured at a ceremony later this year; they will receive the £1 million prize and an iconic trophy, designed by the 2021 Create the Trophy winner Hannah Goldsmith, a 20-year-old design student from the United Kingdom.

Lord Browne also announced a change in the QEPrize cycle to reflect the fact that just as engineering is continually evolving so too is the QEPrize, which will now be awarded on an annual basis. The increase in the frequency of the prize cycle will offer greater opportunities to recognise engineering excellence.

Regarding this change Lord Browne said, "At the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, we recognise that a new age of innovation demands a new approach. As engineering and its place in society keep evolving, so too must the Prize. We want to expand our horizons, and do more to recognise the diversity of contemporary engineering.

"I cannot think of a better way to honour what has been an extraordinary year for engineering, and to celebrate the centrality of engineers to the story of human progress."

Fine out more: qeprize.org

Additional Quotes:

From QEPrize's Judging Panel:

Dr Jean-Lou Chameau"This innovation has had an impact worldwide, and has evolved over the 50 years it has been in existence. The science has been transformed into so many applications – especially in the last 10 years, and there is more to come. Specifically, its energy saving capabilities are incredible – perhaps without realising it, everyone using this technology is opting for a greener option."

Professor Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz: "The QEPrize itself is extremely important. Not only does it highlight fantastic creations, but it also captures the interest of young people and creates role models for young engineers across the globe to aspire to. Engineering is a challenging and stimulating career. If you're an engineer, you can do anything. Engineering allows you to create solutions and solve complex problems that no one has solved before."

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden DBE: "Our 2021 winners are all part of the green revolution. We're looking at approximately 80% less energy for LEDs than traditional light bulbs. In the next 10 years, potentially most of the lighting will be LED. Saving approximately 10% of electricity globally. The contribution of our winners' collaboration cannot be overstated. Giving people more robust, reliable, affordable and more environmentally friendly light sources is the way forward. The wider impact on people's lives is enormous – it means they have more time in the day to study, work and live."

Professor Dr Dr h.c. Reinhard Huettl: "The environmental aspect is this innovation's greatest contribution to saving our climate. It's given us a completely new approach to lighting. You find them anywhere and everywhere."

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE: ""Each one of the five winners has contributed, in unique ways – from the initial creation, development of the technology, to its applications. What's more, it is incredibly efficient compared to incandescent lighting, which requires the heating of a filament. This means it has exciting implications for reducing energy consumption on a mass scale and brings light to parts of the world where electricity supplies are limited."

Professor Jinghai Li: "Science gives knowledge for the basis of human beings. Engineering gives us the solutions. Without this engineering achievement, there would be so much we would not be able to do. LED lighting is everywhere – from cars to computer screens, from streetlights to its use in hospitals to kill viruses."

Dr Raghunath Anant Mashelkar: "This technology is a gamechanger. It helps us deal with one of the biggest challenges facing the world today – decarbonising to mitigate against climate change and help create a greener future. Not only is it an incredible innovation, but because it is affordable and easy to produce, its impacts are amplified. In India, for example, LED, means people are not exposed to the toxicity of other lighting solutions such as kerosene lamps, as is often the case."

Ilya Marotta: "QEPrize is all about showing to the world how, through engineering innovation and creativity, we can solve the world's problems. Our 2021 winners are from different countries, but they came together to create something incredible. It goes to show the incredible things that can happen when engineers work together. You might think the story of creating lightbulbs belongs in the history book, but it's still happening today, and we can learn from the people behind it."

Dr Dan Mote Jr: "This impressive, decorated group of scientists have created an innovation that is undeniably paramount to our planet, especially as we face the continual challenge of reducing our consumption of fossil fuels worldwide. LEDs require no fuel yet produce an extremely high-quality light source, without contaminating the greater environment, across a broad spectrum of lighting needs. Hundreds of millions of LEDs are created every year and you wouldn't be able to stick a pin on our planet without finding them being used – they're ubiquitous."

Professor Dr Dr h.c. Viola Vogel: "The impact of this innovation on the world is enormous and has a huge effect on our planet. The QEPrize demonstrates how important it is that that young people follow their talents and identify the key challenges that lie ahead. There are so many challenges that we need to address today, and younger generations should continually ask themselves how they can use their talents wisely to make this a better world."

Dr Henry Yang: "Engineers are problem solvers. Society needs engineers to help us to solve the problems; to create the technologies we haven't had before and to continuously improve our quality and health of life, especially when the population continues to grow."

From Create the Trophy's Judging Panel:

Sir Ian Blatchford: "Judging the Create the Trophy competition was an exceptionally difficult task this year – though it is always so stimulating and enjoyable. The winning design combines elegance and interest – it draws inspiration from the circuit boards on which much science and engineering is done. We were particularly struck by Hannah's design as it had the audacity of design, it was something our winners can be proud to have on their mantlepiece."

Roma Agrawal: "This year was particularly challenging for us as judges, there were so many brilliant designs! In the end, we loved Hannah's approach to translating the circuitry of engineering into a beautiful organic form. I particularly like how she used the third dimension to add depth to her design. I was also hugely impressed with Atharva's piece, it reminds me of ancient Japanese joinery techniques and I enjoy how turning it around gives you a new view of the design, with a focus on the empty space inside the shape."

Zoe Laughlin: "The winning Create the Trophy entry was beautifully designed. It is abstract but you could read meaning into it. We saw a great range of ages in the shortlist, and entrants from all far flung corners of the world, from India to Italy. There were very powerful themes – very much looking at universality and what unites us, and the endeavour that engineering represents. If you're interested in making stuff and problem solving, then you're interested in engineering".

Rebeca Ramos: "The winning Create the Trophy entry was a fully-formed, considered design. It was clear to us how this would look, and how it would be made. Design and engineering are tied together. One of the missions I have in life is to make it clear these are not mutually exclusive. It's really great when a designer understands the physics of material and from that can let their creativity flow." 


About the 2021 QEPrize

QEPrize celebrates engineering's visionaries, encouraging engineers to help extend the boundaries of what is possible across all disciplines and applications. It also inspires young minds to consider engineering as a career choice and to help to solve the challenges of the future.

The QEPrize is administered by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation and funded by generous support from the following corporate donors: BAE Systems plc, BP plc, GlaxoSmithKline, Hitachi, Ltd., Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid plc, Nissan Motor Corporation, Shell UK Ltd, Siemens UK, Sony, Tata Steel Europe, Tata Consultancy Services, and Toshiba.

The 2021 winners are awarded a total cash prize of £1 million.

The 2021 prize was open to:

  • up to five living individuals;
  • of any nationality;
  • who are personally responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering which has been of global benefit to humanity. Self-nomination was not permitted.
  • The trustees reserved the right to reject any nomination where, in their reasonable opinion, there was or was likely to be a conflict of interest between the nominees, nominators, or any referees and any other nomination or the prize more generally.

The judges use these criteria to select the winner, or winners, of the QEPrize:

  • What is it that they have done that is a ground-breaking innovation in engineering?
  • In what way has this innovation been of global benefit to humanity?
  • Are there any other individuals who might claim to have had a pivotal role in this development?

About the QEPrize cycle transition from 2022

The QEPrize is increasing the frequency of its prize cycle from 2022 in order to offer greater opportunities to recognise engineering excellence.

Those awarded the QEPrize before 2021 received a total cash prize £1million – winners from 2022 onwards will receive £500,000. The entry and judging criteria remain the same.

About the Create the Trophy Competition

The QEPrize trophy is found through the Create the Trophy competition. The winning design is selected by a panel of expert judges from across the fields of engineering and design. The competition gives young people worldwide (aged 14-24) the opportunity to get involved, testing their design skills using the latest in 3D-design technology.



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February 4, 2020

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