i3 - November/December 2019 - 40

INVENTOR, BLUE LED, BLUE LASER
( 1 9 54 - )

W

hen you flip on
your LED light
that almost never
needs replacing or fire up your
Blu-ray player to watch the
latest action blockbuster, you
can thank Dr. Shuji Nakamura,
the inventor of the blue LED
and blue laser that make
these and other ubiquitous
semiconductor-based
products possible.
Nakamura was born in
Seto, now Ikata, in Japan's
Ehime Prefecture, on May 22,
1954, to Hisae and Tomokichi,
who worked at a local power
company. As a boy, the sci-fi
robot adventures of Osamu
Tezuka's manga robot Atom
Boy-known as Astro Boy in the
U.S.-inspired him to become a
scientist.
Nakamura earned his
bachelor's and master's
degrees in electrical
engineering from the University
of Tokushima in 1977 and 1979,
then joined Nichia, an industrial
chemical company also
located in Anan, Tokushima.
Nakamura spent his first six
months on the job reading
scientific journal articles until
company execs told him he
needed to make a product.
Red LEDs had been
invented in the mid-1960s, but
their adoption beyond clocks
dials and status lights to a

40

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

potential incandescent light
bulb replacement was stalled.
Creating white light from
LEDs for lighting required a
combination of red, green and
blue light, but creating highly
efficient blue and green LEDs
had proved challenging.
At Nagoya University,
Professor Isamu Akasaki and
his grad student Hiroshi Amano
started to research the difficultto-handle semiconductor
gallium nitride (GaN) to create
blue LEDs. Nakamura began
similar research, even though
contemporary conventional
engineering wisdom held that
a GaN LED was too difficult to
produce. Nakamura, however,
was supported by Nichia
founder Nobuo Ogawa.
After spending a year at
the University of Florida as a
visiting research associate,
Nakamura returned to Nichia
in 1989, working on his GaN
blue LED ideas mostly on
his own and focusing on
group-III nitride materials. The
following year, he developed a
novel MOCVD (metal organic

chemical vapor deposition)
system for GaN growth
dubbed two-flow MOCVD,
which enabled Nakamura
to grow the highest crystal
quality GaN-based materials.
In 1993, Nakamura finally
succeeded, building the first
energy-efficient group-III
nitride-based high-brightness
blue LEDs. In 1995, Nakamura
also developed the first highefficient green LEDs.
Nakamura's breakthrough
enabled the creation of the
first "white" LED light bulbs,
which went on sale at the
beginning of the new century,
the first practical replacement
for the energy-inefficient
incandescent bulb.
In 1994, Nakamura
earned his Ph.D. in electrical
engineering at the University
of Tokushima while continuing
his blue LED research.
Nakamura was working to
apply his unique blue LED
solution to blue lasers and,
in 1995, developed the first
group-III nitride-based violet
laser diodes in 1995. After four

years of development, these
so-called blue lasers became
the foundation for the new
Blu-ray high-definition video
disc system. These blue laser
diodes also are now used
for next generation laser
lighting, used primarily for car
headlights, laser projectors
and special lighting.
Now famous in the
engineering community,
Nakamura was courted by top
companies and universities. In
1999, Nakamura chose the offer
of a professorship of materials
at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. In 2008,
Nakamura, along with fellow
UCSB professors Dr. Steven
DenBaars and Dr. James Speck,
founded Soraa to develop
solid-state lighting solutions
built on pure GaN substrates.
He also began working with
a colleague, John Bowers,
director of UCSB's Institute for
Energy Efficiency, to create a
sustainable energy future.
His work has earned
Nakamura more than 200
patents and a lengthy list of
engineering awards. In 2014,
Nakamura, together with
Akasaki and Amano, was
awarded the Nobel Prize in
Physics for his GaN blue LED
achievements. When asked
about his hobbies, Nakamura
replied: "I like to think deeply."
I T I S I N N O VAT I O N



i3 - November/December 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i3 - November/December 2019

i3 - November/December 2019 - Cover1
i3 - November/December 2019 - Cover2
i3 - November/December 2019 - 1
i3 - November/December 2019 - 2
i3 - November/December 2019 - 3
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i3 - November/December 2019 - Cover3
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https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/manifest/i3_20160708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/manifest/i3_20170506
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