Falling rouble cuts value of ‘electronic Nobel’ prize for recipients

St Petersburg, June 19 (IANS) The highest Russian technology award was presented here on Friday by President Vladimir Putin to two American recipients, calling their work as the greatest contribution to humanity in their fields.

The Global Energy Prize, though not a government award, is looked upon in Russia as the ‘electronics Nobel’. It was given to Nobel Laureate Shuji Nakamura for his contribution to white LED light technology, which is derived from his invention of blue LED for which he had received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014.

The prize was shared by B. Jayant Baliga, professor at North Carolina University for his invention of the digital switch or the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) which has raised efficiency of all digital equipment and computer hardware and all powered machines, saving trillions of dollars for consumers around the world.

The prize was presented by President Putin at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. The prize was established by several top Russian energy companies.

The Rouble 33-million award, though, has lost much of its value because of the decline in the Russian currency. It was equivalent to over a $1.2 million dollars, but at today’s rate it would be only around $550,000 to be shared equally by the two recipients. But the recipient felt that the global honour which came with the prize was more important.

Nakamura said that his next big venture was development of white laser light, which will increase the efficiency of all equipment which uses light in any form. “The light would be 1,000 times brighter, and would occupy space of half a millimetre by half a millimetre only,” the Nobel Laureate told IANS.

He said the invention was still at a work-in-progress stage and it would take at least five years before it would be commercially available. But it would double the efficiency of laser lights to around 60 percent from what is available at present. “My dream is to bring about 100 percent efficiency, in the sense that nothing is lost in producing the light, although we may never achieve it. But I would be happy with 95 percent,” Nakamura said.

He had developed his blue LED technology while working for Nichia Chemical Corporation in Japan, which just paid him $180 (Yen 20,000) for his efforts. He was so incensed that he sued his former company for discovery bonus, ultimately settling for $9 million after the company went on appeal against a successful lower court order.

Professor Nakamura has written over 550 papers in his field in peer-review journals, and is now teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the US.

Professor Baliga said that he had received several awards in the US, including the highest award for technology given by President Barack Obama last year, but this was the first global recognition of his work which had saved more than $27 trillion in efficiency and fuel not used. He said his digital switch means that the world has had to build 1,666 less 1-gigawatt power plants over the last two decades, saving billions of dollars and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

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