Why It Was Almost Impossible to Make the Blue LED

Published 2024-02-08
The blue LED was supposed to be impossible—until a young engineer proposed a moonshot idea. Head to brilliant.org/veritasium to start your free 30-day trial, and the first 200 people get 20% off an annual premium subscription.

If you’re looking for a molecular modeling kit, try Snatoms, a kit I invented where the atoms snap together magnetically - ve42.co/SnatomsV

Huge thanks to the UC Santa Barbara Materials Dept (ssleec.ucsb.edu/) for taking us around.
Thanks to Álvaro Bermejillo Seco for reviewing the science.
Thanks to these especially helpful sources:
Nobel Prize Biography - Shuji Nakamura - ve42.co/NakamuraNobel
Johnstone, B. (2015). Brilliant!. Prometheus Books. - ve42.co/Johnstone2015
Nakamura, S., Pearton, S., & Fasol, G. (2010). The Blue Laser Diode: The Complete Story. Springer. - ve42.co/Nakamura2010

   • How LEDs Work - Unravel the Mysteries...  
   • How diodes, LEDs and solar panels work  
   • How Blue LEDs Changed the World  
   • How Blue LEDs Were Invented - LGR Tec...  
Touchstone, L. A. (2022). Nick Holonyak Jr. University of Illinois. - ve42.co/Touchstone2022
Perry, T. S. (1995). The Unsung Inventor. IEEE Spectrum. - ve42.co/Perry1995
Chabay, R. & Sherwood, B. (2011). Matter & interactions (4th ed.), S2: Semiconductors. Wiley. - ve42.co/ChabaySherwood
How MOCVD Works via Aixtron - ve42.co/MOCVD
Vangala, S. R., et al. (2019). Epitaxial growth of ZnSe on GaAs. Journal of Crystal Growth. - ve42.co/Vangala2019
Nakamura, S. (1991). GaN Growth Using GaN Buffer Layer. JJAP. - ve42.co/Nakamura3rd1991
Amano, H., et al. (1989). P-Type Conduction in Mg-Doped GaN w/ LEEBI. JJAP. - ve42.co/Amano1989
Huang, M., et al. (2021). Defects in Mg–H‐Codoped GaN. Physica Status Solidi. - ve42.co/Huang2021
Schubert, E. F. (2006). Light Emitting Diodes, Ch 4: LED basics. Cambridge University Press. - ve42.co/RPI-LEDs
Kitada, C. (2001). Blue About Japan. Japan Inc. - ve42.co/Kitada2001
Whitaker, T. (2002). Nakamura loses Nichia patent battle. Optics.org. - ve42.co/NichiaSales3
Pirates Osaka. (2014). Nakamura awarded Nobel Prize in Physics. Hatena Blog. - ve42.co/NichiaSales1
Growth Bozu via Twitter. - ve42.co/NichiaSales2
Rose, J. (2014). Blue LEDs – Filling the world with new light. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. - ve42.co/Rose2014
Pattison, P. M., et al. (2017). LED lighting efficacy. Comptes Rendus Physique. - ve42.co/Pattison2017
Electricity pricing via EIA - ve42.co/ElectricityPricing
Lane, K., et al. (2023). Lighting. IEA. - ve42.co/LightingIEA
LED Footprint via The Climate Group - ve42.co/ClimateGroupLED
Nichia’s History via Nichia - ve42.co/NichiaHistory
Shuji Nakamura via Wikipedia - ve42.co/NakamuraWiki

Images & Video:
Lighting the World via UCTVInsight on YouTube - ve42.co/UCTVep2 & ve42.co/UCTVep3
Palo Alto Times 1971 Article via Newspapers.com - ve42.co/Newspapers
Nick Holonyak, Jr. and the LED via UIUC on YouTube - ve42.co/HolonyakIllinois
The Original Blue LED via Science History Institute on YouTube - ve42.co/OGBlueLED
Maxfield, M. (2022). Compound Semiconductors. EE Journal. - ve42.co/Maxfield2022
M. Stutzmann, et al. (2001). Playing with Polarity. pss (b). - ve42.co/Stutzman2001
Isamu Akasaki in 1995 via Andrey Nikolaev on YouTube - ve42.co/AsakiNikolaev
Pioneer TX-610 Stereo Tuner via Ian Marino on YouTube - ve42.co/StereoMarino
Shuji Nakamura via EPO on YouTube - ve42.co/NakamuraEPO
Nichia Campus via Nichia on LinkedIn - ve42.co/NichiaHQ
Nichia via TDElektronik on YouTube - ve42.co/NichiaTDE
Violeds Sterilization of COVID-19 via Seoul Viosys - ve42.co/SterilizationUV

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Directed by Emily Zhang
Written by Emily Zhang, Ricky Nathvani, and Derek Muller
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Illustrated by Jakub Misiek
Animated by Fabio Albertelli, Mike Radjabov, David Szakaly, Ivy Tello, and Alondra Vitae
Filmed by Derek Muller, Raquel Nuno, and Trenton Oliver
Additional research by Gregor Čavlović
Produced by Emily Zhang, Han Evans, Gregor Čavlović, and Derek Muller

Thumbnail by Ren Hurley
Additional video/photos supplied by Getty Images and Pond5
Music from Epidemic Sound

All Comments (21)
  • @ElectroBOOM
    What a success story! I wish he was successful in compensation side in Japan, but I guess they lost him because of that. Happy to see him thrive now.
  • @charles1513
    "Where others saw dead-ends, he (Nakamura) saw potential solutions." Thank you and all your colleagues for many many years of hard work, Dr. Nakamura!
  • Dude
    You ridiculously simplify the complex concepts of Universe, recently electronics. Your conceptualization and presentation is unmatched. Videos of this channel serve a docu series to many curious souls. Some of your videos go down with me forever!!
    Thank you very much for the efforts of you and your team. Please don't stop making such videos, spread the knowledge, keep motivating and exciting everyone. Love from India
  • @pieeater108
    29:32 his modesty is so sweet 😭😭 he deserves all congratulations he is given!
  • This is an example of 1 person truly changing the world in a way that may have never occurred without them; certainly, it would have been delayed years, even decades.

    I hope he’s happy in a rewarding way, it appears so with him not resting on his laurels and continuing his work in his life’s passion
  • @m47h4r
    The best part of this is he voluntarily put in 100% effort (imagine only new year holiday off in a year) and now he doesn't resent over he didn't make billions. He's happy making a difference and actually being an amazing useful person. I have such enormous respect for him that I can't express in so many words.
  • @MayurJumani
    Everything else aside, your explanation of semiconductors & the stadium seats synergy made this complex topic so easy to understand. I hope they show this in schools.
  • @bobo0202
    This might be the best documentary I have ever seen. Amazing story of ingenuity and perseverance
  • Finally an extensive video on Nakamura and his invention. He deserves it! This was a real revolution (which took years and years of research), with an enormous impact. A Nobel prize is nice, but it's better when people really understand the importance of what he did.
  • @eallen8550
    I can see why this video keeps appearing everywhere! This guy is the ultimate GOAT: Grind, Optimise, Automate, Thrive! Glad he's now getting the widespread recognition he deserves (not to mention the Nobel Prize of course).
  • @TheDreamFx
    I loved how you first explained how the leds work and the difficulty in manufaturing were and then catching up to the present day. Such a great story!
  • @alkimball8920
    From 1988 to 1990 I worked on a Masters Thesis at the University of Utah in the quest for blue LED light. We were growing AlGaInP layers using OMVPE reactors located in our HedCo laboratory at the College of Engineering. We relied on strained lattice growth on many test samples. I still have many of the samples I tested in our LASER lab using photoluminescence (PL) and photoreflectance (PR) measurements. I co-authored a few papers published in the Journal of Applied Physics on the subject. We had another research scientist who was creating less coherent blue light using SiC samples. Yeah, I remember those times like yesterday. Great video and quite accurate. My graduate instructor was Dr. Gerald Stringfellow.
  • @scottmanley
    This is great, I knew the story already, but the presentation is excellent.
  • @dasboot5903
    Personally for me ........ this Japanese gentleman and a pure scientist, Mr. NAKAMURA, is a perfect example of the hard working person and determination in development and creation. I pay a great respect for him !!!! Amen. thanksdoc
  • @lyricsassam
    Brought a tear to my eye, such an inspiring story. Thank you Dr. Nakamura, and thank you Derek(Veritasium).
  • I have Cybersecurity Exam tomorrow and I watched half hour documentary on invention of almost impossible blue LED. I don't even study electronics, physics or chemistry. I guess because this video was very informative, inspirational and more entertaining than movies nowadays.
  • @Makrangoncias
    As dull as the premise sounded it was a fascinating watch! Thanks for making this video!
  • @mnrabs
    Just from a video I can see how humble of a human he is, we owe him for what he did.
  • @uero-ro
    The whole sequence from 23:40 onwards had me on the edge of my seat. We had been following this story, step by step for each of its challenges and prerequisites. The animations did a stellar job of keeping the audience engaged as the music built up the tension until the final release when we see the finished anatomy of the blue LED--panning out to this beautiful radiant blue light held in Nakamura's hands. In a way, his story reminds me of Thomas Edison's story, and it carries a similar weight and carries the torch in modernizing how we illuminate the world.

    Thank you for the outstanding video, Veritasium, and thank you Dr. Nakamura for inventing the blue LED.