White Led Wins Discover Award for Technical Innovation Boston University Engineer Creates the Ultimate Light Bulb

in College of Engineering, News Releases, Science & Technology
June 8th, 2000

Contact: Joan Schwartz, | joans@bu.edu

(Boston, Mass.) — Fred Schubert of Boston University’s Photonics Center is among the eight technological visionaries who have been named winners of the Eleventh Annual DISCOVER Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation, presented by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. The winners and finalists will be announced in DISCOVER’s special July 2000 Awards issue, on newsstands June 19.

Called a Photon Recycling Semiconductor Light-Emitting Diode, or PRS-LED, Schubert’s invention combines up to three different wavelengths of light to produce a highly efficient, long-lasting white light suitable for almost anymany lighting situations. PRS-LED lighting has a very long life expectancy, and is extraordinarily efficient, running at a fraction of the cost of today’s conventional light bulbs. It is very likely to someday soon replace the incandescent, fluorescent, and sodium vapor lights now in use and become the most common sources of artificial light in homes and in public spaces.

Conventional light bulbs generate light by heating a filament. LEDs generate light via an chemical electronic process. Electrons enter an light-emitting active region through external wires where the electrical energy of the electrons is transformed into light particles, or photons.

LEDs in use today have one active region and produce a single color of light — Schubert’s PRS-LED utilizes at least two active regions. The first region, made of a relatively new, very stable chemical compound, GaInN (gallium indium nitride), takes an electrical current, and converts it to photons in the blue/green range. Some of these photons are then redirected to a second active region, made of AlInGaP (aluminum gallium indium phosphide), that absorbs the light and re-emitts it at a different wavelength, producing photons in the yellow/orange/red range.

The two wavelengths are chosen so that when combined they are perceived as white light by the human eye. By changing the active regions to produce different wavelengths, the PRS-LED can be configured to produce millions hundreds of different colors.

Conventional light bulbs are very inefficient, losing most of their energy in the form of heat rather than light. The PRS-LED is 15 to 20 times more efficient, theoretically producing white light with an efficiency exceeding 300 lumens per Watt. Since GaInN is one of the most stable chemical compounds available, nearly as stable as diamond, the PRS-LED is also very reliable. It is predicted that a lighting device based on this technology will be able to last as long as 50 years in normal household use.

Schubert is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University and a member of the faculty of the University’s Photonics Center. He holds, singly or jointly, 27 patents. Dr. Schubert has served on the scientific staff of AT&T Bell Laboratories and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research. He received the Doktor Ingenieur degree from the University of Stüttgart.

This is the first time that DISCOVER has revealed the names of the winners and finalists prior to its annual Awards weekend, to be held this year on June 23 and 24 at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. The honorees will be formally acknowledged at a gala ceremony that has become known as the “Academy Awards of Technology” the evening of June 24, following a two-day “Media Expo” featuring a selection of the most ingeniusingenious and creative nominated innovations. Many of the winners, finalists and semi-finalists — including Schubert — will be on hand to demonstrate their innovations during this interactive Expo.

Submissions for the 2000 DISCOVER Awards represented an international call-to-arms and exemplified the vast proliferation of technology in virtually every aspect of our lives. The winner and finalist named in each category were chosen by DISCOVER’s editorial panel and an outside panel of evaluators who reviewed thousands of noteworthy innovations representing a new configuration of eight categories: aerospace, communications, computing, energy, entertainment, health, humanitarian, and transportation.

The Boston University College of Engineering draws on the strengths of the entire university to educate engineers for success in an inherently interdisciplinary world in which engineering concepts play a vital role in understanding biological and environmental systems as well as such fields as information technology, telecommunications, aerospace and manufacturing. It includes departments in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Manufacturing.

The Photonics Center, a new model for university-industry collaboration, was launched by Boston University in 1994 to bridge the gap between basic research and practical application. Its mission is to forge business partnerships with investors and industrial partners, turning emerging concepts in photonics technology into commercial products, and spawning a growing stream of new companies.

Further information about Professor Schubert and his work is available at people.bu.edu/efs/ and at www.bu.edu/photonics/html/s_people/s_schubert_fred.htm

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