This year’s Nobel Laureates are rewarded for having a curious invention. It is a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.
But… Science can be a nasty business, at times. Isaac Newton once had a rival’s portrait torn off the wall of the Royal Society, Dr. Pettenkofer drank a vial of cholera bacteria out of protest, and James Watson spent 200-plus pages airing dirty laundry from the discovery of the double helix. It’s ultimately inevitable; take any group of several tens of thousands of high-powered individuals, many of whom have personalities that sacrifice social graces for raw intellectual power, and set them all to the task of deciphering the nature of reality, and try to avoid some fireworks. Yet this week, a bit of scientific sniping comes after several decades of emotional restraint; the inventor of the LED has ended his long-standing assertion that he was not, in fact, snubbed for the Nobel Prize.
Nick Holonyak invented the first visible-spectrum LED in 1962, and the technology quickly revolutionized the world; LEDs changed networking, data storage, data transmission, and more; the impact of LEDs can be seen in everything from your smartphone screen to your fiber internet connection to your next car’s headlights. So, when year after year went by without an all-important Nobel nod to LEDs, some in the industry called foul — against Holonyak’s resistance. He says he long ago put aside any lingering hopes that he would win a Nobel, but never imagined that someone else might get it for the technology he himself invented.
Below, this short video shows Holonyak and his long history with LEDs.