February 12, 2024   

New Documentary Sheds Light on LED Evolution

Without the blue LED we might still be living in a fluorescent and HID world.  Here is the story behind it.


Lighting People who are inspired to learn more about how white LED light came to be, might want to dive into the fascinating video documentary of the blue LED's creation with the video "Why It Was Almost Impossible to Make the Blue LED" on YouTube. Published by the channel Veritasium, this video, with its engaging narrative and vivid visuals, has captured the attention of viewers worldwide, amassing nearly 7 million views during its first three days.

The journey begins in 1962 with Nick Holonyak's invention of the first visible LED, setting the stage for a technological revolution that would eventually lead to the creation of the blue LED. Discover the initial breakthroughs and the decades-long struggle faced by engineers and scientists to create a blue LED, a challenge deemed nearly insurmountable due to the complex nature of semiconductor materials required.


At the heart of this story is Shūji Nakamura, an engineer whose relentless pursuit and ingenious innovations at Nichia led to the groundbreaking development of the blue LED. Despite facing skepticism and resource constraints, Nakamura's radical breakthroughs paved the way for the realization of a technology that would transform the lighting industry and lead to the widespread adoption of LEDs in various applications.

Together with Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, Nakamura received the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes, which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.


From the transcript:

"Nakamura began consulting for Cree, another LED company. Nichia was furious and sued him for leaking company secrets. Nakamura responded by counter-suing Nichia for never properly compensating him for his invention, seeking $20 million. In 2001, the Japanese courts ruled with Nakamura and ordered Nichia to pay him 10 times his initial request. But Nichia appealed and the case was eventually settled with a payout of $8 million. In the end, this was only enough to cover Nakamura's legal fees. (soft music)"


Key moments in this journey include:
  • The struggle to find the right materials and techniques for the blue LED, a quest that took Nakamura across the globe and into the depths of semiconductor physics. (10:15)

  • Nakamura's pivotal decision to focus on gallium nitride as the material of choice, a choice that set him apart from the mainstream research focused on zinc selenide. (12:28)

  • The technological breakthroughs and innovative approaches, such as the two-flow reactor, that enabled Nakamura to overcome the immense challenges of creating high-quality gallium nitride crystals. (16:32)

The video also highlights the broader impact of the blue LED on the world, from energy-efficient lighting to the potential applications of UV LEDs in sterilization. Nakamura's story is not just about the blue LED but about the power of perseverance, innovation and the pursuit of one's passions against all odds.


NOTE: While Inside Lighting recognizes the documentary's comprehensive research and compelling presentation, we encourage our readers to consider the complexities of the subject matter. Given the nature of the content, it's possible that some aspects may be interpreted differently within expert circles. We recommend viewers approach the information with an open mind and, where necessary, seek out additional sources for a more rounded understanding.