After a reign of theoretical physics and the spell of quantum mechanics on the scientific fraternity, it seems the small is again big in this area of inquiry. This year’s Physics Nobel has been bagged by the troika behind low-energy LED light, a watershed in cost-effective and energy-efficient mechanism of illumination.
They are Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, who invented the blue light emitting diode that’s now the ubiquitous source lighting up everything – our drawing rooms and community halls, ball rooms and traffic lights, billboards and smartphones. The LED lights, both environmentally sustainable and non-polluting (they contain no mercury), have had an impact so enormous on current electrical engineering that they have significantly lowered the carbon footprint of this sector by more than half.
Moreover, LED lighting is one of the primary source of hope for almost 2 billion people who are still outside a regular power grid. Moreover, the LED lights last longer, create less emission from average fluorescent lights and do not give out much heat radiation. The brilliant achievement that is the blue-light emitting diode has been underscored by all this and more. And the Nobel nod, certainly well deserved, is also an acknowledgement of the physics of the less grand. For over a decade, applied physics had taken a backseat as researched thronged to discover the mystery of Higgs boson or black holes.
Subatomic particles and string theories made the pulse race: applied physics and less glamorous fields like electrical engineering lay in neglect, were seen in contempt from those who occupied the ivory towers of physics research. But it’s the small that really plugs the tiny holes in research and development. With the Earth sitting on a heap of fast burning fossil fuels, hopes are pinned on the little glories of everyday physics.