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Isamu Akasaki (1929–2021), inventor who made LED light widely accessible

by Linnea Crowther

Isamu Akasaki was a Japanese physicist who was part of the Nobel Prize-winning team that developed blue LED light, a breakthrough that led to the widespread use of LED today.

The well-lit road to the Nobel Prize

Early LEDs emitted red light. They were useful in technological applications, but they only provided a very small amount of light. Creating a blue LED was a challenge that many scientists worked on, including Akasaki and his graduate student, Hiroshi Amano. They successfully developed an LED that emitted blue light, and Shuji Nakamura further refined their process to create a blue LED that produced abundant light. This was key to today’s ubiquitous use of LEDs as efficient light sources, and the tecnhology is also used in flatscreen TVs, automobile headlights, medical devices, and much more. Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for their work. Akasaki received hundreds of other patents for his work over the years, and he was awarded for his work with honors including the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, the Edison Medal, and the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Akasaki on his personal philosophy

“No pain, no gain. And as Thomas Edison said, ‘Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 perspiration.’ I say this to younger people, experience is the best teacher. That is, sometimes there is no royal road to learning.” —from a 2017 interview for the Electrochemical Society

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Tributes to Isamu Akasaki

Full obituary: The New York Times

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