Two IOP members win Nobel Prizes

9 October 2014

Two IOP members are among this year’s winners of the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry.

Two IOP members win Nobel Prizes
© ® The Nobel Foundation

IOP fellow Prof. Hiroshi Amano, of Nagoya University, Japan, is one of three physicists who jointly won the Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). He shared the prize with Prof. Isamu Akasaki, also of Nagoya University, and Prof. Shuji Nakamura, of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

IOP affiliate member Prof. Stefan W. Hell, of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and the German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg, is one of three scientists who jointly won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. He shared the prize with Eric Betzig of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Prof. William E. Moerner of Stanford University, both in the US.
For the physics prize, red and green LEDs had been available for some time but blue LEDs were the missing piece of the jigsaw needed to create efficient white lamps, which have numerous applications.

The work of the chemistry laureates has circumvented Abbe’s diffraction limit in optical microscopy by using fluorescent molecules, enabling its use in the nanodimension such as studying the pathways of molecules in living cells. Prof. Hell’s particular contribution was the development of stimulated emission depletion microscopy using lasers.

In response to the announcements, the Institute’s president, Frances Saunders, said: “With 20% of the world’s electricity used for lighting, it’s been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to four per cent. Akasaki, Amano and Nakamura’s research has made this possible and this prize recognises this contribution.

“This is physics research that is having a direct impact on the grandest of scales, helping protect our environment, as well as turning up in our everyday electronic gadgets.”

“Similarly, the work on optical microscopy is expected to revolutionise biology and medicine and has already enabled advances in studying living systems such as synapses in the brain, the proteins involved in Huntingdon’s disease and the processes of cell division.”

Saunders said it was wonderful that the Nobel Foundation had chosen to commend the work of the three physicists and three chemists on the cusp of the International Year of Light 2015, which is a global initiative to highlight the importance of light.