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Queen Elizabeth prize trumpets LEDs for harmonizing humans and nature

A prestigious British awards group that recognizes engineering innovations of global benefit to humankind has bestowed this year’s honors on five individuals for playing an indispensable role in establishing the LED as an everyday light source, and one “which will play a major role in ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature long into the future.”

The winners of the 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering includes professors Shuji Nakamura and Isamu Akasaki, who in 2014 both also shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work in developing blue diodes — a milestone that was key to making energy-efficient LEDs capable of providing white light and thus moving them into general illumination, beyond the world of indicator lights.

Nick Holonyak, credited for inventing the red LED at General Electric in 1962 — two or three decades before breakthroughs in blue — also shares this year’s £1 million (US$1.4M) QE Prize. Holonyak’s work is regarded by many to have been as instrumental as the Nobel-winning work of Nakamura, Akasaki, and a third scientist, Hiroshi Amano, in ultimately establishing the LED for general illumination. Nobel judges have yet to award him a medal, which some observers consider to be a slight.

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