June 18, 2006 The world’s most lucrative technology award, the Millennium Technology Prize, has been awarded to Professor Shuji Nakamura. Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize, including a cash component of one million euros, for his work in developing new sources of light – bright-blue, green and white LEDs and blue lasers. Professor Nakamura’s work has launched a totally-new sector in light-producing semiconductor research, made possible the widescale industrial production of efficient, energy-saving LED lights and created the conditions for applications that improve the quality of human life. His blue lasers have enabled the next generation of optical storage (BluRay and HD-DVD), his LED work has enabled highly efficient lighting systems suitable for significantly reducing consumption of the world’s resources, and his work with ultraviolet LEDs could enable far cheaper and more efficient water purification processes to provide the third world with its most needed commodity (sadly, safe water). Nakamura’s win is also significant in that a significant body of his work related to a high profile patent dispute that challenged the Japanese tradition of selfless devotion to employers.
LED lights have extremely long lives and consume far less energy than normal incandescent lamps. In industrialised countries, the opportunities for energy-saving LED lights are significant – it has been calculated that in the USA alone, replacing current lighting systems with systems based on LED lights could achieve very significant reductions in energy consumption in future decades. The new light sources are also well suited to operation with solar power systems and are therefore ideal for use in remote areas of developing countries.
One of the most significant future applications for Shuji Nakamura’s invention is the sterilisation of drinking water, since the use of ultraviolet LEDs makes the water purification process both cheaper and more efficient. Systems based on this technology are expected to improve the lives and health of tens of millions of people.
Data storage and transfer using light generated by blue lasers brings significant benefits, for example, the amount of data stored on CDs or DVDs can be increased by some five times compared to previous techniques. The BluRay and HD-DVD optical storage formats are based on the blue laser developed by Nakamura.
“Shuji Nakamura is a splendid example of perseverance and dedicated research work, and of making a major breakthrough. He has worked with great determination for decades, and even severe setbacks have not prevented him from achieving something that other workers in the field regarded as almost impossible: using a reactor system of his own design to develop a solid material, in this case gallium nitride, into a powerful light source producing blue, green and white light, and also creating a blue laser. The lighting applications now made possible by his achievement can be compared with Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. In the course of time, energy-efficient light sources based on Shuji Nakamura’s innovation will undoubtedly become predominant,” says Pekka Tarjanne, Chairman of the International Selection Committee.
Professor Shuji Nakamura was born in Japan in 1954. He has worked in the USA at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 2000, and his research work into new sources of light continues.
In accordance with the rules of the Millennium Prize Foundation, a proposal concerning the winner of the Millennium Technology Prize is made to the Board of the foundation by the eight-member International Selection Committee, and the final decision on the prize winner is made by the Board. Shuji Nakamura will receive the Millennium Technology prize at a ceremony to be held in Helsinki on the 8th of September. The prize is awarded every second year for an innovation that improves the quality of human life and well-being.