Tales of Nakamura

Bright lights, piles of cash, courtroom drama, and a lone inventor

5 min read
Tales of Nakamura
Photo: UCSB

imgBrilliant!: Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology by Bob Johnstone; Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y., 2007; 316 pp., illustrated; US $28; ISBN 1-591-02462-5Photo: Randy Lamb/University of California, Santa Barbara

Thomas Alva Edison had plenty of help when he invented the first practical incandescent lightbulb more than 125 years ago. By contrast, Shuji Nakamura was working virtually alone at a small, obscure Japanese company in 1992 when he developed the bright blue light-emitting diode, or LED, that now promises to supplant that bulb in many applications. Since then, Nakamura has become a celebrity in Japan, a litigant in a high-profile lawsuit, a California resident, the winner of the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize, and a wealthy man.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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