Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) - History of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

The Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) we use today were invented by the American engineer Nick Holonyak Junior in 1962. He created the red LED, which shines with a red light when electricity flows through it. Other inventors created LEDs that produced other colors, like yellow, orange, and green. Nick Holonyak was inspired by work on the "infrared" diode, which emits light that is invisible to humans. The infrared diode was invented in 1961 by James R. Biard and Gary E. Pittman, and is commonly used for remote controls for TVs and other electronic devices.

Light Emitting Diodes are used in almost every kind of electronic device, for number displays, on/off lights, and just about any indicator lights. Mixing the chemicals for red, green, and blue LEDs produces white light. White LEDs are now common for lighting. They require much less electricity than either incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs. The 2014 Nobel Prize committee said, "Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps."

  • Creating a bright blue LED was a difficult challenge. Researchers worked on this problem for years, before the Japanese engineer Shuji Nakamura created it in 1993. He used gallium nitride developed by Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, and the three shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.

  • The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded specifically for the blue LED, but no Nobel Prize has been awarded for any other LED type. Nick Holonyak was 85 at the time, and said he found the decision "insulting".

  • Though the LEDs we use were invented in 1962, it seems the first LED was invented earlier. A Russian named Oleg Losev published an article about his invention in 1927. Unfortunately, his work went unnoticed, and he died in 1942.

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