LED Lights Win the Nobel Physics Prize!



LED lights have been in the news recently for some very big reasons: they won the Nobel Prize in physics. Okay, the lights didn’t win, but three scientists won for their work in creating this amazing source of light.  If you’re a flashlight aficionado, you already understand the value of the bright, clean light produced by Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). They’ve been used for years in electronic devices such as VHS players, cell phones, and coffee makers. They light everything from your computer monitor to your big screen television. So, why is something that’s been around for a while just now being recognized? It has to do with blue.

Red and green diodes were created decades ago, but the blue diode evaded scientists. They tried for nearly 30 years to create one, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that three Japanese scientists succeeded in creating one. It was only when the blue diode was added to the red and green diodes that scientists could achieve the full color spectrum that allows for true white light. Once that happened, it opened the door to more environmentally friendly, cost efficient bulbs.

According to Per Delsing, a physicist at the Chambers University of Technology and head of the Nobel physics committee, the award was in line with the wishes of Alfred Nobel who founded the award with the aim of honoring discoveries which had the “greatest benefit to mankind.” It was presented to Shuju Nakamura of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Isamu Akasaki from Meijo University and Nagoya University in Japan, and Hiroshi Amano, also of Nagoya University.

The secret to creating the blue diode was the right mix of crystals and chemicals for a semiconductor when electricity was passed through it. In addition to that bright white light for your flashlight, work is underway to develop a portable LED-based device that could someday use ultra violet emissions to sterilize water. The LED requires less power to operate and provides a brighter, whiter light in bulbs that last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. That humble flashlight looks just a little more impressive, doesn’t it?

An Introduction to the Complexities of the LED Flashlight

Whenever the subject of flashlights is brought up I usually find myself at a loss. We rely so much on electricity however my knowledge of it is rudimentary at best. I took some classes in high school that dealt with circuit boards and what not but whatever I picked up then is long gone now. So if something arises with a flashlight where it starts to malfunction I would rather just throw it away than deal with it.

Back in the halogen days there were issues with bulbs burning out or breaking, but that was always an easy fix. Usually there were spare bulbs to be found around the house to replace the burnt out bulb in your flashlight. Here is a diagram of what the circuitry would look like in a conventional halogen flashlight:


Then along came the LED light. The LED light was a milestone in flashlights. The bulbs were more durable lasting thousands of hours more than halogen bulbs at a fraction of the energy cost. This came with a price though: LEDs have the tendency to heat up more than the conventional bulb with the old style of circuitry shown above. As seen below, the LED flashlight is more complex (to prevent overheating, etc) than its predecessor:


LED lights have also opened the door for variable type outputs both on intensity (LOW, MED, and HIGH) and flashing modes (SOS and STROBE). This is also attributed to their durability that they bring to the light market. These modes can be selected by using a combination of switches (shown above) and sensors with a magnetic ring (shown below). The ring with a magnet will rotate around and depending on which sensor is facing the magnet will determine the type of output.

As you can see now the LED flashlights today carry a combination of microchips, sensors, magnets, etc. The sky is the limit with what we can do with these LED flashlights. With the development of capability with what the LED can do, we are only limited with what kind of power source that we have available: LED flashlights are capable of running off both standard batteries and Lithium Ion. However that is a whole different story of its own.