Inventors of LEDs Win 2015 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering

Release Date: January 6, 2015

For Immediate Release
Randy Atkins
Senior Media Relations Officer
Nicole Flores
Communications Associate
Inventors of LEDs Win 2015 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering

Washington, DC, January 6, 2015 – The National Academy of Engineering announced today that the 2015 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering will be awarded to Isamu Akasaki, M. George Craford, Russell Dupuis, Nick Holonyak Jr., and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention, development, and commercialization of materials and processes for light-emitting diodes (LEDs).” The $500,000 annual award is given to engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society.

The Draper Prize will be presented at a gala dinner event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 24, 2015, along with the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize.

“I am honored to recognize the recipients of the 2015 Draper Prize for their groundbreaking work on light-emitting diodes,” said NAE President C D. Mote Jr. “These prize-winning engineers were the pioneers in a technology that has changed the world we live in from the aesthetics in our homes, to advancements in our visual capabilities, and to environmental stewardship.”

LEDs are used by billions of people on a daily basis through applications like computer monitors, cellphone screens, TVs, traffic lights, home lighting, digital watch displays, medical applications, and many more. The $33 billion LED industry has stimulated global job growth and dramatically lowered the cost of energy. In 2012 alone, more than 49 million LEDs were installed in the U.S., with an estimated annual savings of $675 million in energy costs. In 2013, LEDs in general lighting applications saw a rapid growth, saving the U.S. more than 12 million tons of CO2 emissions. LEDs also produce the greatest amount of light for the energy used, and have the longest lifetime of any lighting source available.

The first visible red LED was created by Nick Holonyak Jr. in 1962 while working at General Electric Co. Holonyak’s work at GE involved the study of III-V materials, which include the semiconductor gallium arsenide (GaAs). Holonyak found that when he added phosphorus (P) to gallium arsenide, the result was a shortened wavelength, which allowed him to make use of the light-emission properties of diodes, ultimately turning the infrared light to red. Through this discovery, Holonyak created the GaAsP LED, which is the underpinning of all high-brightness LEDs made today.

In 1972 M. George Craford invented the first yellow LED and increased its brightness by adding nitrogen to Holonyak’s GaAsP LED. Craford also participated in the development processes for the first large-scale commercial production of red LEDs. In the years afterward, Craford led work that resulted in the first high-brightness yellow and red LEDs, available in 1992, and later contributed to the development of high-power white LEDs.

Russell Dupuis developed and refined a process called metal organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) in 1977, which enabled production of high-brightness LEDs. Dupuis’ MOCVD technology is the basis of virtually all production of high-brightness LEDs, laser diodes, solar cells, and high-speed optoelectronic (light controlling) devices.

In 1987 Isamu Akasaki created a blue LED by utilizing the MOCVD technology to grow high-quality gallium nitride crystals on sapphire substrates. Akasaki’s blue LED enabled bright, energy-saving white light sources.

In 1992, Shuji Nakamura made major contributions to InGaN-based high-brightness double –hetero-structure blue LEDs, and laser diodes that allowed development of the “high-density digital video disk,” also known as Blu Ray DVD. As a result of this breakthrough, the commercialization of high-brightness blue and white LEDs rapidly grew and led to the many LED and laser diode applications in use today.

The Draper Prize was established in 1988 at the request of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Cambridge, Mass., to honor the memory of "Doc" Draper, the "father of inertial navigation," and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology. The prize is awarded annually.

Founded in 1964, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering is a private, independent, nonprofit institution that provides engineering leadership in service to the nation. The mission of the National Academy of Engineering is to advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshalling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology.