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BLU RAY MEDIA

There is no doubt that Blu Ray media is the new emerging must-have digital format for the 21st Century. Its capacity allows for unprecedented audio-video quality that rivals cinematic film. Blu Ray is becoming more and more accepted by general consumers, and a variety of manufacturers are supporting the format and even actively pushing it. But before we head into the future, let's take a look at the past.

We’ve come a long way since first beginning this series of articles on all (okay, most [many?]) things DVD, and a good part of our time has been spent discussing its successor format, Blu-ray Disc and Blu Ray media in general – but who invented it, anyway? Who is Mr. Blu-ray Disc? Was there even one single person, or was it truly a team effort, perhaps involving a roster of people on rotating assignments throughout the years? This final installment, Number 29, takes a look at the Japanese man most closely linked to the laser technology responsible for the Blu-ray Disc format that is slated to define optical disc media for the next decade.

Shuji Nakamura, born May 22, 1954 in Ikata, Ehime, Japan, is today a professor at the Materials Department of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A 1977 graduate of the University of Tokushima in electric engineering, with a master’s degree in the same two years thereafter, he went straight into Nichia Corporation, also in Tokushima. The story of Blu Ray media has its genesis here, for it was during his time at Nichia that Nakamura, working virtually alone, mastered the semiconducting material that is Gallium Nitride (GaN) to invent the first high brightness GaN Light Emitting Diodes, or GaN LEDs, eventually creating the first blue laser. This is significant as the color of light is related to its wavelength, and in optical disc technology the wavelength of a laser (which is but very focused, concentrated light) relates to the disc’s storage capacity. With this invention, Nakamura increased the data density available to optical discs by a little over ten times: standard DVD’s 4.27GB to Blu-ray Disc’s 50GB. (Since then, Pioneer has demonstrated a laboratory version capable of 400GB – but that is another story [indeed, it had been another article in our series!], as is the fact that by creating blue, green, and white GaN LEDs, Nakamura may help create much more energy-efficient light bulbs, using up to fifty percent less power than current incandescent bulbs.)

Actually, the wider technology had been well-known but its physics not clearly understood, and what Nakamura contributed was the precise theory behind GaN LEDs and a way to mass produce them, with the first batch being made in 1993. He was lucky in that Nichia’s founder, Nobuo Ogawa, was willing to support his research, even though the matter was generally considered too difficult by scientists of the day, with development stretching back to the 1960s. Various honors soon followed, and continue to this day, including a Doctorate from his alma mater in 1994.