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Enhancing our quality of life

The Millennium Technology Prize, the world's largest technology award, recognises and celebrates 'humane technology'. Launched in 2004, the Prize was awarded for the second time, in September 2006, to Professor Shuji Nakamura for his work on developing a new and revolutionary source of light: blue, green, and white LEDs, and blue lasers. The global search for candidates for the 2008 Prize will begin in spring 2007.

The Millennium Technology Prize has been established to help steer technological development in a more humane direction and bring technology closer to you and me. The principal aims of the Prize are to promote technological research and innovation that have a positive impact on people's quality of life, enhance the positive aspects of technological change, and encourage debate on what technology can offer in solving the problems facing the planet.

The mission of the Millennium Technology Prize is to promote quality of life and sustainability as the ultimate benchmarks of technological development. The 'Peak' trophy given to winners has been designed by Helena Hietanen.

The Millennium Prize emphasises humane values and global social responsibility, and underlines the need to develop a new sense of 'technological responsibility'.

New technology is essential if we are to be able to respond to such global challenges as the lack of clean drinking water in many areas of the world, the threat of climate change, and our ever-growing energy needs. As the pace of technical change accelerates, dialogue between those developing technology and the 'rest of us', together with debate about the values we want to follow in developing new technologies, will become increasingly important.

Finding the world's best innovators

A crucial element in the success of the Millennium Technology Prize will be how well those responsible for selecting the winners can find the best possible candidates for the Prize.

“Both the innovators that we have recognised so far – Sir Tim Berners-Lee for his invention of the World Wide Web and Professor Shuji Nakamura for his work on LEDs – have fulfilled the criteria set for the Millennium Technology Prize excellently in my opinion,” says Jaakko Ihamuotila, Chairman of the Millennium Prize Foundation.

“We want to challenge high-tech companies, industrial organisations, research institutes, universities, and scientific academies around the world to come up with candidates reflecting the very best and most innovative advances that reflect the spirit of the Prize in a variety of fields of technology,” says Ihamuotila.

Japanese-born Professor Shuji Nakamura received the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize for his work on gallium nitride semiconductors, light-emitting diodes, and lasers.

Winner of the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize

Japanese-born Professor Shuji Nakamura is the second winner of the Millennium Technology Prize – and received the 2006 Prize for his work on gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and lasers.

Born in Japan in 1954, with a doctorate in engineering from the University of Tokushima, Professor Nakamura became interested in low-energy LEDs and related laser technology early on, and has made numerous breakthroughs in these areas since the 1980s. Based at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) since 2000, he heads up research at the Solid State Lighting and Display Center there, and has built up a significant research programme in new areas of gallium nitride research.

Drawing on groundbreaking work on GaN and new Metal-Organic Chemical Vapour Deposition (MOCVD) techniques, Professor Nakamura stunned the optoelectronic community in 1993 with the announcement of very-bright blue GaN-based LEDs. In rapid succession, he then announced a green GaN-based LED, a blue laser diode, and a white LED – all developments that other researchers in the semiconductor field had spent decades trying to achieve.

His pioneering work on LEDs and laser technology has already opened up exciting possibilities for new energy-saving sources of light.

LED lights have extremely long lives and consume far less energy than normal incandescent lamps. Estimates by the Department of Energy in the US indicate that close to USD 100 billion could be saved in energy costs by 2020 if we were to switch to solid-state lighting. This would not only reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions, but could also have a dramatic effect on limiting global warming.

Professor Nakamura's innovations could have a fundamental impact on the lives of millions of people, particularly in developing countries. Lighting applications powered by solar electricity made possible by his inventions are ideal for countries like these, as well as applications for water sterilisation, which are currently the subject of extensive development efforts

> Tanja Ikonen
(Published in High Technology Finland )