Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and American scientist Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize in physics today for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs)—a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says the invention is just 20 years old, "but it has already contributed to create white light in an entirely new manner to the benefit of us all." The laureates triggered a transformation of lighting technology when they produced bright blue light from semiconductors in the 1990s, something scientists had struggled with for decades. Up until that point, scientists had only been able to produce red and green light, reports the Washington Post; it's the combination of the three that allows for the production of LED bulbs' bright white light.
"As about one-fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth's resources," the committee says. Nakamura, 60, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, spoke to reporters in Stockholm over a crackling telephone line after being woken up by the phone call from the prize jury and said it was an amazing and unbelievable feeling. Last year's physics award went to Britain's Peter Higgs and Belgian colleague Francois Englert for helping to explain how matter formed after the Big Bang. Up tomorrow: the Nobel award in chemistry. (Read more Nobel Prize stories.)