Shuji Nakamura’s Millennium Prize a Brilliant Tribute

Our good friend and the colleague of many within in the compound semi (CS)
and solid state lighting (SSL) communities, Shuji Nakamura, has been selected
as the recipient of Finland’s one million Euro (appx: $1.26 million USD) Millennium
Technology Prize
. This prestigious international award is for “an innovation
that improves the quality of human life and well-being.” Our industry’s
gallium-nitride (GaN)-based blue spectrum LED and laser technology, which Shuji
perfected while he was working at Nichia in his native country of Japan, certainly
qualifies as just that kind of world-changing technological innovation. And
now, as a professor at UC Santa Barbara in California, the follow-on work he
and his colleagues are now doing in UV-LEDs for lifesaving applications in water
and food purification continues along that noble path.

I’m sure our entire CS and SSL readership joins me in thanking the Finish government
and its supporters for creating the prize in 2002 and that, by selecting Shuji
Nakamura for this honor, the message of what GaN-based technology contributes
to the betterment of the world will be more widely recognized. Shuji (he
has always gone by his rather unique first name to his friends
) has been
a prime catalyst for this technology since the mid 1990s, but proving once again
how painfully long it takes to bring a “new” material to the forefront
of technology, it’s actually been since the 1930s that the promise of GaN first
came to light. (Ref: Herbert
Paul Maruska’s Brief History of GaN blue LEDs
… a must read!)
So when I heard that Shuji had won this major international prize, I immediately
thought how wonderful an honor this is, not only for Shuji, but for all
the CS and SSL materials scientists who have labored in labs throughout the
world these many years to bring GaN to its current stage of commercial reality.
For many of you, it’s been decades of hard work, international cooperation and
technical peer review bringing the wide bandgap (WGB) materials and devices
to the stage they are now… ready and able to take their place in revolutionizing
LEDs, lasers and electronic applications.

When you read Maruska’s enjoyable and colorful historic
, you’ll see that research into the epitaxial growth of GaN crystals
began way back in the 1930s in Germany. But it wasn’t until RCA in the USA,
in 1968, became interested in the prospects of a flat screen TV that R&D
moved into the realms of practicality. Subsequently, Maruska and Jacques Pankove
together produced the first “bright” GaN violet LED emitting at 430nm
on July 7, 1972. From then on, the successful commercialization of GaN/sapphire
substrates for LEDs and lasers… and further down the R&D road, GaN for
electronic devices… became a goal for a select cadre of CS materials scientists
worldwide. It took determination, skill, art, and a great deal of luck for one
of them, Shuji Nakamura, to finally break through the barriers and produce reliable,
long-lasting, very bright blue spectrum LEDs and lasers from his home-brew MOCVD
reactors at Nichia. From all accounts, the original founder of Nichia, Mr. Nobuo
Ogawa, deserves tremendous credit for supporting Shuji’s original vision and
persistence, as do Shuji’s original teammates at Nichia in those early days
who helped make The Blue Breakthrough possible. But it was clearly the
unique personality and persistence of Shuji Nakamura himself, and his commitment
to the process of international peer review and the sanctity of intellectual
property that made the triumph real… and lasting.

Luxeon High Power

One of the great pleasures in my many decades championing the compounds was
to produce a video workshop starring Shuji in 1999, just before he left Nichia.
Titled GaN 101:
The Brightest Star of the Compounds
, it was shot at a CS Outlook (the
predecessor of our annual CS
) and has become a classic in our field. Students, especially,
still marvel at “how he did that.” Looking back over the years
through Shuji’s triumphs, trials, and tribulations as he tussled with the subsequent
management at Nichia (ref: litany
of coverage
over recent years
), I can’t think of anyone more deserving
than Shuji Nakamura of the Finish Millennium Technology Prize. For those of
you who don’t know him personally, take a look at our coverage
in 2003 when we awarded Shuji our Compound Semi Online Pioneer
. Then view his UCSB homepage.
How fortunate are those UCSB grad students! How fortunate are we all
that Shuji’s breakthrough came in time to create solid state lighting and blue
lasers in our lifetime.

This prize is a relatively new one on the international science and technology
scene and holds promise of becoming one that marks truly great achievements,
much like the Nobel Prize. The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded every
second year and its intention is to encourage human-centered technological development
by rewarding both innovations and research and development work that are aimed
at improving quality of life and sustainable development. Various Finnish organizations,
industry, and the Finnish state founded and funded the lucrative prize in partnership.
The first Millennium Technology Prize was awarded to Sir Tim Berners-Lee in
June 2004 for his invention of the World Wide Web. Shuji is the second person
to receive it.

I’m especially thrilled that this prize carries with it enough international
publicity clout to garner the attention of the mainstream international press.
This makes the award a marvelous public relations vehicle for solid state lighting
in particular, and for compound semi material science in general. As Mark Johnson,
a colleague of Shuji’s at North Carolina State University (NCSU) put it, “This
is good news for us all
.” Among the various reports, I call your attention
to the following online sources: coverage
in Russia
, coverage
in Finland
(an especially cool picture) more
from Finland
(which includes reference specifically to MOCVD), the
USA’s National
Public Radio coverage
and finally, the USA’s San
Jose Mercury News
coverage, Silicon Valley’s most influential newspaper.

Coincidentally, the award was made literally on the day that my friend and
fellow writer Bob Johnstone, author of the acclaimed We
Were Burning
: Japanese Entrepreneurs and the Forging of the Electronic Age,
had completed the manuscript of his next book, which is titled BRILLIANT!
Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting.
Earlier, when nearing the
completion of the 16 chapter manuscript, Bob had asked Shuji what gives him
the most satisfaction about what he has wrought? Shuji replied, “Helping
to prevent the effects of global warming and helping the people of third-world
countries by giving them a safe lighting system
.” It seems Shuji had
recently been much impressed by Dave Irvine-Halliday and his work with the Light
Up The World
foundation (www.LUTW.org)
which has, over the past few years, provided LED/solar-based SSL lighting systems
impacting the lives of over 100,000 people in 26 countries. Bob said the awarding
of the prize instantly became the final “kicker” he was looking for
to end BRILLIANT on a high note and was delighted to note that in the UCSB
press release
there was a quote from Shuji that he planned to donate some
of the Millennium Technology prize money to Light Up The World. “A
worthier cause I cannot imagine
“, said Bob.

Bob Johnstone also noted that, “Now that Shuji has won the Millennium
Technology Prize… that just leaves the Nobel
.” Indeed. In many people’s
minds Shuji Nakamura qualifies for both. Bob Johnstone’s BRILLIANT! is due out
in early 2007. The story is so fascinating and Bob’s a great writer. It’s in
the non-fiction genre of Tracy
‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Soul of a New Machine (1981, updated
and reissued in 1997). After reading BRILLIANT, you’ll finally learn the whole

So congratulations to all the technologists who have worked so hard getting
GaN materials and device technology to the today’s stage. With Nitronex recently
scoring $21 million in final venture funding (ref: coverage)
to vie with Cree and RFMD by ramping their Sigantic GaN on Si for WiMax
RF applications into manufacturing mode, and with so many companies now involved
in solid state lighting that the market growth figures are getting downright
mainstream (ref: Strategies
Unlimited’s latest study
), I’d say… “We’ve Arrived!
And our greatest ambassador is clearly Shuji Nakamura, winner of the second
Millennium Technology Prize. Congratulations, Shuji. We’re all tremendously
proud of you and thankful you selected the wonderful world of compound semiconductors
and solid state lighting as your career. It’s been a BRILLIANT! one, indeed.

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