What’s So Special about Blue LED Lights?

by | Oct 6, 2017


Last week I was at the fantastic Carlyle Summit in Santa Barbara on wellness and sustainability which co-hosted by UCSB.  There I learned that a UCSB professor,  Shuji Nakamura, shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering how to create blue LED lights. Why is a blue LED light worth a Nobel Prize? In short, because blue LED light is needed to effectively make white light from LEDs. More on this below.

Modern LED lights confer huge benefits over incandescent bulbs and other types of lighting:

  • LEDs convert over 50% of the electricity they use into light while incandescent bulbs only convert 4% of electricity into light. So, they are much more efficient in terms of energy use.  This great efficiency also means they produce a lot less heat.
  • LEDs can last 100,000 hours as compared to around 1,200 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for florescent bulbs.
  • Incandescent bulbs and many florescent bulbs flicker. Unconsciously, this flickering can disturb our concentration and attention.
  • Recent generations of LEDs allow flexible color choices and warmth which can aid in circadian rhythm regulation.
  • LEDs attract less insects than incandescent bulbs.
  • They do not contain mercury like florescent bulbs.
  • They are dimmable whereas florescent bulbs are not.
  • LEDs are very useful in portable electronics such as computers, phones and tablets. LED is also the technology behind the current crop of HD and 4K TVs, providing better, brighter displays than LCD or Plasma HD TVs and are also more energy efficient.*

More on the importance of blue LED lights.  LED (which stands for light emitting diodes) lighting has been around since the 1950s. However, while LED technology could produce colors ranging from infrared to green, the ability to generate the blue end of the spectrum from LEDs remained elusive until the discoveries of Prof. Nakamura and the two other laureates. Prior to the blue LED light discovery LED lights were dim, inefficient and colored (think of the red or green LED lights on a clock, microwave or cable box).

Without blue light, LEDs could not efficiently produce white light,. White LED light is easy to make from a blue light – engineers use a blue LED to excite a fluorescent chemical in the bulb. That converts the blue light to to white light and/or other colors of longer wavelengths.\

*Note that “LED TVs” and “LCD TVs” both use LCD technology to generate images. The older LCD TVs used florescent lamps for backlighting whereas “LED TVs” backlight the LCD display with LEDs.


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