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The Nobel Prize that has lit all of our lives



We take light for granted – in our offices, when we turn the computer on, when we wake up in the morning, driving at night or even watching a football match in a floodlit stadium.


But this week, the group of scientists who paved the way for lighting our lives in such an all-encompassing manner finally, and deservedly, achieved the ultimate award in their field – the Nobel Prize for Physics.

If it hadn’t been for Professors Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, together with Shuji Nakamura, Philips would not have been able to build on their invention and introduce so many life-changing innovations.


Life-changing not just for consumers who live in the West but, more importantly, for societies that, until recently, weren’t even able to switch on a light to read at night.

Twenty years ago, these three men created what until then many had believed was impossible – blue light-emitting diodes, the essential component to create white light. Such an innovation was inconceivable they were told and, for many years, their experiments were fraught with difficulties. But true innovation is about not giving up, it is about finding inspiration in the face of enormous obstacles – and these three men were indeed inspired.

In the 1960s, we had developed red and yellow LEDs; the next decade brought us green, but blue remained elusive – until their breakthroughs in the 1990s.


And the blue was so significant because, finally, we had the last piece of the jigsaw that meant we could mix the colours to create white light in LED lamps.


From that moment, innovation in lighting changed for ever. Not simply because it meant that LEDs would one day replace incandescent lighting, but because it provided the planet with a lighting source that used less power, was more sustainable, cheaper to run and more environmentally-friendly. About a quarter of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, but LEDs use less power, last 10 times longer than fluorescent lamps and 100 times longer than incandescent light bulbs.

The effect on society has been truly transformative. In Africa, for instance, communities can have easy access to night-time lights because LEDs do not require vast amounts of expensive power – in some cases, in fact, Philips LED systems can be charged by solar power.

It is perhaps this aspect that most persuaded the Nobel committee to award the prize. Blue LEDs allowed us to fundamentally change the way we live throughout the world – not just today but for many generations to come.


This was the invention that formed the basis for a revolution in light, and we at Philips have been helping to develop and improve it ever since. Most significantly, perhaps, we have been at the forefront of the digitisation of LEDs.


In a connected world, where smartphones and tablets have become more meaningful to our everyday lives, Philips has brought out a series of innovations that enables consumers to control their LED light use in increasingly intricate ways using such handheld devices.


Digital provides for us incredible opportunities to build on the success of these three extraordinary scientists. They helped to inspire the endless possibilities of the future – and now we are making those possibilities real.



-- Ton Martinali, Product Manager Architectural Lighting, Philips Benelux

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