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2019 CT Hall of Fame: Shuji Nakamura

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Shuji Nakamura will be inducted along with five other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Wednesday evening, November 6, at SIR Stage37 in New York City. In addition, for the first time, CTA will also honor its Innovation Entrepreneur Award winners at the dinner. i3 magazine highlights this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register now!

Shuji Nakamura, Inventor, Blue LED, Blue Laser

When 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 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 Astro Boy 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 and papers 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 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 difficult-to-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 now focused 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 high-efficient 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 numerous 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."

CTA Staff