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LED Expert Wins Prize

June 16, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — A scientist at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday was given one of the world's top technology awards for his groundbreaking research on light-emitting diodes -- the ubiquitous LEDs that promise to replace Edison's incandescent bulb and light up vast areas of the Third World that are still without electricity.

A UC Santa Barbara professor since 2000, Shuji Nakamura received word early Thursday that he had been selected for the Millennium Technology Prize, a grant of 1 million Euros -- roughly $1.26 million -- provided by Finnish corporations and the government of Finland. Given for the first time in 2004, the biennial prize's previous recipient was Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web.

At a university reception Thursday, Nakamura pointed out that UC's motto -- "Fiat Lux" -- is Latin for "Let there be light."

"That could sub as the motto for my own research," he said, adding that he plans to give some of the money to Engineers Without Borders and the Let There Be Light Foundation, groups aiming to improve conditions in developing countries.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 22, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Nobel Prize: A June 16 story in the California section misstated the number of Nobel laureates on the faculty at UC Santa Barbara. There are five, not three.

Nakamura, 52, was cited by the donors not just for his revolutionary advances in lighting but also for other applications of his research, from building roomier DVDs to purifying tainted drinking water. He is to formally receive the award from the president of Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki, Finland, in September.

An engineer at a relatively obscure Japanese company, Nakamura astonished many academics with his development of a bright-blue LED in 1993. That development had eluded scientists for some three decades, and paved the way for what has been called "the Holy Grail" of the field -- Nakamura's invention of the white LED, the heart of lightbulbs that burn longer, cooler and use far less energy than the standard ones.

"A simple solar cell on a hut can run enough LEDs to read by, to help people educate their children" said UC Santa Barbara physicist Walter Kohn, one of the university's three Nobel laureates. Nakamura's work stands to immeasurably aid the 2 billion people around the world who do not have access to the power grid, he said.

Nakamura became a national hero of sorts in Japan after he sued his former employer, Nichia Corp., over the $200 bonus he said he received for his inventions. A Tokyo court awarded him about $170 million but, after the company appealed, he settled for about $7 million.

Still, the experience soured him on working for Japanese firms.

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