Hiroshi Amano, Shuji Nakamura and Isamu Akasaki shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of blue, light emitting diodes (LED). Through the use of phosphors, the new blue LED was subsequently translated into the white light we understand and use in our daily life.
The creation may be of limited understanding to many, but the importance to lighting, design and the future of illumination is monumental. Quite simply, this creation “changed everything.” In the ten short years since their work became marketable, the way in which we illuminate our world has been upended and completely altered. This was a huge scientific accomplishment, but the impact on design has been seismic. Here are four ways in which this Nobel Prize for Physics has altered interior design expectations.
#1 – Color Choice
Prior to LED, light bulbs came in one color. That color worked nicely for warmer, earth toned palettes, but was found wanting with bolder tones. LED can be easily produced in a wide variety of colors from the warm, candle-like tones of 2400K to cool blue daylight at 6500K. This wide spectrum has resulted in rooms that better represent the aesthetic intent of the designer. Yellow, beige and wood are richer and more revelatory with warm LED color measuring 2700K. Blues, stainless steel, whites and black become more vibrant when illuminated by 3000K LED. Light is now an integral part of color selection and interior design.
#2 – Light Layering
If you think back to homes, built as early as the year, 2000, the concept of light layering was absent. Single luminaires, placed in the center of the room were de rigueur. Our subjective impressions of light bring us to react negatively to this type of illumination. Humans show a preference for peripheral light that varies in intensity. The same light also delivers a space that is perceived to be more relaxing and provides us with a feeling of privacy. Simply put, more and varied light starting at the perimeter and moving inward is preferred by most people.
Cove lighting, niche lighting and tray ceilings illumination was far more complicated and substantially more expensive before the development of LED. Now, designing an array of light that meets both aesthetic and preferred needs is easier. That is the result of this trio’s work.
#3 – Lighting That Supports Human Circadian Needs
The human body functions via the aid of our circadian system. That system is driven by the 24-hour, light-dark cycle of the sun. Since the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of second and third shift workers, humans have subtracted themselves from this cycle, thereby disrupting their circadian rhythm and in-turn the production of melatonin. When used carefully, LED can replicate blue, mid-daylight, white dawns and orange-red dusk. Light therapy, while still in its infancy is starting to help. We may still be a few years away from affordable circadian lighting that changes colors throughout the day in our homes and workplace, however without LED, this end goal would not be possible.
#4 – Light Preference
Prior to LED becoming the go-to source of energy efficient light, fluorescent light was the only option. While mature, good-looking fluorescents have been developed, they suffered from the bad reputation of the low-quality CFLs introduced in the late 1990s. With the bad taste those early CFLs left in the minds of designers and consumers, additional fluorescent use was going to be a hard sell.
Because of energy efficient advances in most every other electric product, lighting was consuming more and more of our electric use, peaking in 2008 at over 14% of typical residential electric consumption. The bipartisan, “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007” mandated a change to more efficient lighting. Those efficiency demands made fluorescent the only option until LED lamps were introduced to the market in 2008. Their presentation of light was enthusiastically received. Consumers willingly switched to energy efficient LED. The preferred light is the result of the efforts of Nakamura, Amano and Akasaki.
For most people, the passing of a physicist barely merits a “click” on a news website. For interior designers, architects and lighting people a glass should be raised and an expression of debt shared. His work resulted in a paradigm shift in our understanding and application of lighting, all for the better.