Categories
disruption LED

Shuji Nakamura: did he invent the blue GaN LED alone and other questions. An Interview.

Interview for the Chinese Newspaper Southern Weekly about Shuji Nakamura

by Gerhard Fasol

The Chinese Newspaper Southern Weekly interviewed me about Shuji Nakamura’s invention of the blue LED and the background to his Nobel Prize. Here some of my answers.

Read the article in Southern Weekly in Chinese language here: 【2014诺贝尔·科学】无人相信的发明

Shuji Nakamura: when he first announced his breakthrough, most people just did not believe him initially. But you are an exception. What made you believe in Dr Nakamura?

At the time when I first heard Shuji Nakamura’s results around 1992 – long before Bob Johnstone hear about these results (Bob Johnston is a friend of mine, and I know him for a long time – but Bob Johnstone is a journalist, I am a Physicist) I had worked about 18 years in physics research, at many of the best research labs in the world. So I had at that time already a very long experience in research. When I heard Shuji Nakamura’s talk at the Physics Conference in Nagoya, I could immediately judge from his talk that this was a very very important result. So I visited Shuji Nakamura at his laboratory at the company Nichia in Anan several times for discussions, he gave me copies of his papers and patents and I studied his research papers and his patents, and he also showed me the blue LEDs so I could see for myself. I had worked a long time in this field already, so I could understand that his work was true, and I could also see the working blue LEDs with my own eyes. Such blue LEDs did not exist before, so it was clear that he had succeeded in this breakthrough.

At that time I knew almost all research groups in the world working on blue LEDs, at IBM, Hitachi, SONY, and many University labs and national labs globally, and I knew the status of their research. It was obvious that Shuji Nakamura had won this race.

It is true that many people did not believe his results initially. That was because these people did not make the same effort that I made to visit Shuji Nakamura and study his results.

For example, I send a report about Shuji Nakamura’s breakthrough to the German Physical Society member’s journal for publication, and the Editor rejected my article initially, because he showed this report to German Professors in this field. They had not heard about Shuji Nakamura’s work, so they had never heard about this blue LED breakthrough and were working in their own labs on II-VI compounds which was a dead end. Because they considered themselves as the top experts in the field they rejected my report on Shuji Nakamura’s work.

I told the Editor that I am right, and the German experts are wrong, the Editor believed me and printed my report about Shuji Nakamura’s work. You can read this report online here (in German language):
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/phbl.19950511004/abstract

Some researchers question whether Dr Nakamura made the blue LED on his own. Why do people criticise his achievement and what is the truth? Do these rumors continue after the Nobel Prize was announced?

Every researcher “stands on the shoulder of giants”, of course now work is done in total isolation, and always rests on some previous results. Even Einstein, who did not read many scientific papers and worked out many results on his own from zero point, of course used many results of others.

Therefore Shuji Nakamura’s work of course relied on the hard work of many other researchers before him. For example he used the production technology called MOCVD (Metal Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition), which he learned in Professor Ramaswamy’s group at the University of Florida (Professor Ramaswamy was working in the office next to mine at Tokyo University for about 1 year, so I know him also very well). Shuji Nakamura also could read the published part of Professor Akasaki and Professor Amano’s excellent results on GaN compounds – Professor Akasaki and Amano’s work were also awarded the Nobel Prize at the same time as Shuji Nakamura.

Shuji Nakamura could not have done his work without the support of the Founder and Chairman at that time of the company Nichia, Mr. Nobuo Ogawa. Shuji Nakamura introduced me to his Chairman Mr Nobuo Ogawa and I had lunch with him several times and discussed how he supported Shuji Nakamura’s work financially and as the leader of Nichia. Mr Nobuo Ogawa at that time owned about 1/3 of the company Nichia, so he could take major decisions such as supporting Shuji Nakamura.

I believe that at Nichia there are two people without whom this work would not have happened:

  1. Chairman Nobuo Ogawa and
  2. Shuji Nakamura

Neither could have done the work alone, and both together were necessary to achieve this
breakthrough at Nichia. Also, when Shuji Nakamura went to Mr Nobuo Ogawa and proposed to work towards the discovery of blue GaN LEDs, at that time, Shuji Nakamura did not have a PhD, and no great research success stories behind him, although he has done successful development of red LEDs, but which were not commercially successful. Without a PhD I think there would have been almost no one except Mr Nobuo Ogawa who would have supported Shuji Nakamura’s proposal, certainly no large corporation, government supported research agency, or University, and without a PhD he would have had zero chance to win a peer-reviewed research grant from large research agencies.

Unfortunately Mr Nobuo Ogawa passed away some years ago, so he cannot enjoy the Nobel Prize celebrations.

Of course at Nichia, Shuji Nakamura could attract a number of very excellent assistant researchers, but it is very clear that Shuji Nakamura was the leader of the Blue LED research at Nichia who was leading a group of assistant researchers who essentially followed his leadership and were doing this work because of him and under Shuji Nakamura’s leadership. I am very convinced that if Shuji Nakamura would not have been working at Nichia, this invention would not have happened at Nichia. This is quite obvious to anyone who understands how science works.

Of course there are some people who envy Shuji Nakamura. Excellent people celebrate Shuji Nakamura’s success and get inspired. Mediocre people spend their time spreading rumors and talking bad about Shuji Nakamura, don’t listen to them. I have heard some of these rumors, and I have checked most of them direct with Shuji Nakamura, and I am convinced that these rumors are wrong.

Maybe some of the people who spread stupid rumors about Shuji Nakamura have failed in their own work, and don’t like someone else succeed?

About the Nobel Prize: The Nobel Prize in Physics is decided by the Nobel Prize in Physics Committee of the Swedish National Academy of Science. When I have worked in Europe, I met some of the members of this committee and I can tell you that they are all very very excellent Physicist. I am convinced that they are doing a very excellent job in checking in great detail how Shuji Nakamura achieved his results, and I am sure they have checked out all these rumors and found that they are untrue.

As a colleague of Dr Nakamura’s, could you describe a little bit about his style in research?

First of all like all excellent researchers Shuji Nakamura is extremely passionate, driven by passion for his work, and he is a maniac, working very very hard. When I was working on the book with Shuji, he was working with me on 30., 31., December, 1st of January all over the New Year period without break, exchanging emails with me in the middle of the night etc.

Secondly he is driven by intuition – he is a genius. Maybe you know that when Shuji studied at the University of Tokushima, the University did not have a Physics Department, so Shuji did not study full Physics but won the Physics Nobel Prize! I am Physicist, I have full Physics University training even to a PhD level, and I can tell you that Shuji has a very deep understanding of Physics, but he has essentially learnt this all by himself! Not through a University Physics degree!

I think his work is very intuitive. He has a very deep understanding of Nature, and follows his intuitions, his feelings, much more than anything he has learnt from the books.

More information:

Copyright 2014-2019 Eurotechnology Japan KK All Rights Reserved

Categories
disruption LED

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano win Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 for the blue LED

Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 for the blue GaN LED

by Gerhard Fasol

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano enabled the global lighting revolution

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded in equal shares to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.

While red and green LEDs were invented long ago, efficient blue LEDs did not exist until Akasaki’s, Amano’s and Nakamura’s long series of inventions. Blue LEDs are needed to create white light.

The invention of blue GaN based LEDs enables the global lighting revolution. By replacing legacy light bulbs, fluorescent tubes etc by GaN LEDs, a big fraction of the world’s electricity can be saved, and the effect is even bigger in the developing world where still today many people use extremely expensive oil for lighting. Read a detailed analysis of the economics of lighting here.

The mainstream blue-LED scientific community was working on a dead-end: II-VI compounds

Of course the importance of blue LEDs was understood for a long time, and in the 1980s and 1990s all major industrial and University labs were working towards this holy grail – Hitachi, SONY, Philips, IBM, lots of Universities in Europe and US and elsewhere had groups working towards blue LEDs – but they all worked on II-VI compounds, which turned out to be a dead end.

The way much (not all – and thats the way towards Nobel Prize class discoveries) of mainstream established incremental research works, in most established labs, to get peer reviewed grants for research towards blue LEDs in the 1980s, this had to be II-VI work.

It needed strong willed people as Shuji, Akasaki and Amano to take a totally different approach outside the mainstream. Its to the credit of JST and other Japanese funding agencies to have supported Amano and Akasaki’s work. Shuji on the other hand ‘only’ had one person to convince: the owner and founder of Nichia Mr Nobuo Ogawa- and did I say that Shuji did not have a PhD at that time?

Which research agency would give a couple of million $ to a researcher without a PhD but with a big almost unreachable target who still has to learn the methods (MOCVD in this case) to work towards this target – other than Mr Nobuo Ogawa?

Shuji Nakamura actually introduced me to Mr Nobuo Ogawa in Anan (Tokushima-ken), and we had several curry lunches in a restaurant next to Nichia Chemical Industries Headquarters. I asked Nichia-Chairman and Founder Nobuo Ogawa how he decided at the time to fund Shuji Nakamura’s one-year stay at the University of Florida in Professor Ramaswamy’s group to learn MOCVD (by the way Professor Ramaswamy was my office-neighbour when I was Associate Professor on the NTT Telecommunications Chair at Tokyo University), and fund Shuji Nakamura’s work to the tune of many US$ million, which at that time was a large fraction of Nichia’s overall sales.

To my question how Mr Nobuo Ogawa took the decision to support Shuji Nakamura, Mr Nobuo Ogawa simply answered: “How did you chose your wife, Gerhard?”.

Shuji Nakamura, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano worked on III-V compounds and achieved the lighting breakthrough

While the mainstream scientific blue-LED community worked with high intensity towards this dead end without knowing that they devoted their lives and their students to a dead-end, Akasaki and Amano over many years painstakingly solved one problem after another to create electronic devices based on the III-V compound semiconductor GaN and its variations.

Shuji Nakamura then built on Akasaki and Amano’s work, solved the three major and many many minor problems remaining to create commercially viable blue LEDs. But the work did not stop there: Shuji Nakamura also created white LEDs, UV LEDs, blue Lasers (e.g. for SONY’s blue-ray DVD players and displays) and a lot more. (read about Shuji Nakamura’s breakthrough work in great technical detail here: The Blue Laser Diode)

Shuji Nakamura, Nichia Kagaku Kougiyou and releasing Japan’s creative power

Shuji Nakamura was also a very diligent writer of patents and wrote a large number of very strong patents. These inventions together with patents propelled his then employer Nichia Kagaku Kougiou from a maker of phosphors (which were used for cathode ray tubes and fluorescent tubes) to one of the most important semiconductor companies. For these inventions, Nichia paid Shuji Nakamura a salary approximately on the level of a Japanese primary school teacher, plus a few US$ 100 bonus for the inventions.

Lets not go into the law suits between Nichia and Shuji Nakamura here, but let me say, that I have never found the complete story explained in the media. Most media reports give a very incomplete picture of the true story of the law suits between Nichia and Shuji Nakamura. – I guess most media just copy from each other in this case…

I noticed Shuji Nakamura’s work first around 1992 at the Japanese Applied Physics Conference in Nagoya, where Shuji gave a talk about his GaN work. I visited Shuji a couple of times in Anan (Tokushima-ken), he introduced me to the founder of Nichia, Mr Nobuo Ogawa, without who’s support Shuji’s work would have been impossible. With Nobuo Ogawa’s death, Shuji decided to move to the USA, to Santa Barbara, where he is working today. Interestingly, when Shuji was looking for a job, he had lots of offers from USA, but none from Europe and none from Japan… Why that?

Shuji developed deep insights about issues holding back Japan, and has shared his advice on many occasions, including also the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum, which I annually organize in Tokyo as a leadership platform. Read about his talk here, where Shuji passionately calls for changes – even a revolution – in Japan, to unshackle Japan’s creative energies.

To learn more about the Blue GaN LEDs and lasers, and their invention:

and of course you can also read Shuji Nakamura’s, Isamu Akasaki’s and Hiroshi Amano’s 100s or even 1000s of original scientific publications.

Shuji Nakamura talking passionately at the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum in Tokyo 2013
Shuji Nakamura talking passionately at the Ludwig Boltzmann Forum in Tokyo 2013

Copyright (c) 2014 Eurotechnology Japan KK All Rights Reserved