This week, the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were announced, and it was a photonics two-fer! The physics prize went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”
Blue LEDs might sound like a trivial topic for a Nobel Prize, but most reports on the award rightly point out that the physics behind these LEDs is non-trivial and their positive impact on society is inarguable. A few of the articles that came out on this are below:
- Blue-LED Pioneers Snag 2014 Physics Nobel, from Optics & Photonics News.
- Physics Nobel won for invention of blue LEDs, from New Scientist.
- Why blue LEDs are worth a Nobel Prize, from Starts with a Bang.
- American and 2 Japanese Physicists Share Nobel for Work on LED Lights, from the New York Times.
The chemistry prize went to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.
In short: were are typically limited in optical imaging by the wavelength of light. Attempts to resolve objects that are smaller than or closer together than the wavelength are unsuccessful, as the images tend to blur into each other. However, by making the target objects “glow,” or fluoresce, it is possible to beat this resolution limit and even spot individual molecules. A few articles on this:
- Super-resolution light microscopy wins chemistry Nobel, from Chemistry World.
- Nobel Prize in chemistry: beating nature’s limits to build super-microscopes, from The Conversation.
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Improving Microscopes, from The New York Times.
This dual win for optical devices and techniques shows how important the study of light remains even today!