Meijo University professor Isamu Akasaki (left), 85, answers questions during a press conference at the University in Nagoya, central Japan, on October 7, 2014.

Story highlights

NEW: Scientist Shuji Nakamura says winning the Nobel Prize is "unbelievable"

Committee: Trio's work is in keeping with the spirit of Alfred Nobel

They invented the blue light-emitting diode

Coupled with the red and green, it creates white LED lights

CNN  — 

Two scientists in Japan and one at the University of California at Santa Barbara were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics for helping create the LED light, a transformational and ubiquitous source that now lights up everything from our living rooms to our flashlights to our smart phones.

The awarding committee said the trio’s work is in keeping with the spirit of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prize, because LED lights save on energy, last long and are environmentally-friendly because they don’t contain mercury.

They “hold great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids,” the awarding committee said.

Specifically, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura were honored for inventing the blue light emitting diode.

Red and green diodes had been around for years. But when the three created the blue diodes in the early 1990s, only then could the white lamps that glow from every corner of our world be created.

For 30 years, scientists had tried to create the blue diode.

“They triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology,” the committee said. “They succeeded where everyone else failed.”

LED lights last longer and are more efficient than regular light bulbs and fluorescent lamps.

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Not prepared for it

Nakamura, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said by phone that receiving the news that he had won the Nobel prize was “unbelievable.”

Akasaki and Amano are affiliated with Nagoya University in Japan.

Amano was on a flight when the committee tried to call him so was not able to hear the news in advance of the news conference, the committee said.

Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said that Nakamura and Akasaki had been thrilled to learn they were prize winners.

“I think they were not prepared for it. They had not been waiting up all day and all night for this call,” he said.

The three winners will share the 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million) attached to the prize.

Last year’s physics prize went jointly to Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom for the theory of how particles acquire mass. Their theoretical brilliance was borne out when researchers confirmed the existence in 2012 of the Higgs boson, or “God particle.”

The Nobel prizes in chemistry, literature and economic sciences will be announced later this week, as will the Nobel Peace Prize.