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Shuji Nakamura Delivers the 2019 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU
Professor Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, recently delivered the 2019 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU, during which he discussed the approach he employed in inventing the blue LED, as well as Soraa lighting company he established.
 
Over 400 people came to listen to Nakamura’s candid and engaging lecture, which was followed by a lively question-and-answer session. Freshman Ou Yuen of the College of Nuclear Science asked him why he chose to work in academia rather than industry, to which he humorously replied, “Because when you work for a company you have too many bosses; but in academia you can arrange your own schedule, and you don’t have a boss!”
 
Ji Dayou, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, asked about the key to success in the field of materials science engineering, to which Nakamura replied, “Work on whatever you find most interesting, rather than what others find most interesting! East Asians tend to be highly conformist and regimented, but if you want to be an innovative researcher, then you have to strive to think independently and to find you own true voice.”
 
The virtues of solitude in nature
 
Widely regarded as “the father of blue LED,” during his lecture Nakamura gave a brief account of how he started from scratch, as recounted in detail in his book Brilliant!Brilliant!
 
Nakamura was born in the small fishing village of Ikata on the island of Shikoku, Japan. As a child he would spend hours at a time just staring at the mountains and sea. He said that this childhood experience honed his concentration and taught him how to look at things in a different way; thus he is a firm believer of solitude.
 
Not surprisingly, Nakamura advocates subverting the dominant paradigm; he also extols the benefits of following your intuition. As he sees it, one of the keys to carrying out fruitful research and developing new products is simply being mindful of whatever information you receive through your sense faculties. During childhood he never excelled at school, and the only subjects that interested him were mathematics and physics. Following his interests, he entered the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of Tokushima. Upon graduation he had difficulty finding a job, and finally settled on a position in the research and development department of the Nichia chemical company in Tokushima Prefecture.
 
Turning adversity into an advantage
 
It was while working at Nichia that Nakamura became interested in light-emitting diodes (LED), which had already begun attracting worldwide attention. Yet he was the only person at Nichia working full-time in research and development, and he was hampered by an extreme lack of resources. Nonetheless, instead of getting dejected, he took it as a challenge, and plunged into his work with lots of zeal.
 
Due to the lack of basic experimental apparatus, Nakamura went around collecting discarded equipment which he used to cannibalize what he needed. He also learned the virtue of frugality. For example, the quartz tubes necessary for his experiments are very expensive, so he found a way to reuse them many times over by repeatedly welding them together. As a result of working in these difficult circumstances, he came to realize the importance of making things by hand. Evincing his Luddite sympathies, he said that automated mass production fosters a sense of alienation between people, whereas making things by hand brings a sense of accomplishment and connection with others.
 
Guided by his intuition and employing his unique hands-on approach, during his first ten years at Nichia, Nakamura invented three new products, and although none of them were hugely successful in terms of profits, they established his reputation as a talented researcher and inventor. As a result, he received an opportunity to pursue advanced studies at the University of Florida in semiconductor crystal technology, an area closely related to blue LEDs.
 
Taking the road less traveled
 
Upon returning to Japan, Nakamura immediately began working on blue LEDs. Rather than using the zinc selenide used by most researchers, he chose to use gallium nitride (GaN), widely considered difficult to work with because it doesn’t readily form into crystals. And despite the ridicule he received from his colleagues, Nakamura felt that he was onto something, and steadfastly proceeded along the path less traveled.
 
What’s unique about the blue LED is that blue light has the highest frequency of all visible light, and combining it with red and green LEDs results in the highly efficient white LEDs which are now widely used.
 
Nakamura soon became so engrossed in this research that he had practically no interaction with any of his coworkers, and when the management ordered him to discontinue his research, he paid no attention, for he sensed that he was onto something big. To facilitate his work, he fabricated an improved version of the MOCVD (metal organic chemical vapor deposition) reactor, thereby solving the problem of a unidirectional heat convection which is so strong that it impedes crystallization, thus making it possible to use gallium nitride for effective crystallization. Three years after returning from the United States he officially announced that he had successfully developed a blue LED. Looking back on the whole process, he said it was like “climbing Mount Everest wearing wooden clogs.”
 
At the vanguard of illumination technology
 
His invention was met with both surprise and doubts, and since then he has been working on improved versions of the blue LED, and it is now used worldwide. In recognition of his groundbreaking research, he won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano.
 
Afterwards, Nakamura became a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and set up the LED lighting company Soraa.Nakamura said that one of Soraa's main projects is the development of artificial lighting which is closer to the natural light spectrum, so as to avoid unwanted side effects, such as insomnia. He said that the sun also contains blue light, which helps the human body to operate normally. However, in the white LEDs currently in use, the blue light content is higher than that in sunlight; this excessive amount of blue light inhibits the release of melatonin in the brain, which causes insomnia. Thus Nakamura says that it’s best to avoid using a mobile phone before going to bed.
 
Soraa is also developing various blue laser products. The advantage of a blue laser is that it emits lots of light from a small area, making it well suited for such applications as laser scanners, televisions, automobile headlights, and light fidelity (Li-Fi) wireless communication technology using electromagnetic waves. Nakamura said that the efficiency of the 5G network that is currently being developed around the world is 10Gb per second, but with Li-Fi this can reach 1000Gb per second. In addition to increasing the speed of information transmission and improving security, it can also be used in places where it’s difficult to transfer signals, such as underground and deep in the water.
 
The power of faith
 
While introducing Nakamura, former NTHU president Chen Lih-juann said that apart from being a dark horse and an inventor, what really impresses him about Nakamura is that he completed his doctorate in one year, and a mere 20 years later he won the Nobel Prize.
 
After the speech, Nakamura was visibly pleased as students rushed to the stage to get his autograph, take a selfie with him, and to ask further questions.
 

Prior to delivering the 2019 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU, Shuji Nakamura (right) met with NTHU president Hocheng Hong.

Prior to delivering the 2019 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU, Shuji Nakamura (right) met with NTHU president Hocheng Hong.


From left to right: Department of Materials Science and Engineering director Chang Shou-yi, SVP of academic affairs Chen Sinn-wen, Hocheng, Nakamura, College of Engineering dean Lai Chih-huang, and Department of Materials Science and Engineering assistant director Sean Chen.

From left to right: Department of Materials Science and Engineering director Chang Shou-yi, SVP of academic affairs Chen Sinn-wen, Hocheng, Nakamura, College of Engineering dean Lai Chih-huang, and Department of Materials Science and Engineering assistant director Sean Chen.


Nakamura managed to condense his entire career into a one-hour talk.

Nakamura managed to condense his entire career into a one-hour talk.


Former NTHU president Chen Lih-juann said that very few inventors have ever won the Nobel Prize.

Former NTHU president Chen Lih-juann said that very few inventors have ever won the Nobel Prize.


Students taking selfies with Nakamura.

Students taking selfies with Nakamura.


Nakamura also touched upon blue-light laser technology.

Nakamura also touched upon blue-light laser technology.

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