Interview with Shuji Nakamura -- "The more I fall into the quagmire, the more ideas I get"

Interview with Shuji Nakamura

Apr 9, 2001

Shuji Nakamura
Professor Materials Department University of California Santa Barbara

Mr. Shuji Nakamura is an inventor of blue LED. He entered Nichia after obtaining a master's degree from University of Tokushima in 1979. He undertook the manufacturing of chemical semiconductors GaP and GaAa at Nichia and was sent to University of Florida in the U.S. as researcher. After returning to Japan in 1989, he started the development of a thin film made of the GaN material by using MOCVD devices, and succeeded in the creation of a GaN film in 1990. This development became the base of the release of the blue LED product that surprised the world in November 1993. Until he left Nichia in December 27, 1999, he developed blue, purple laser by using GaN semiconductors. By early 1999, he succeeded in the sample shipping of the blue LED product for the first time in history. Mr. Nakamura joined University of California Santa Barbara as professor in February 2000.

Q: It has been one year since you moved to University of California Santa Barbara as professor after leaving Nichia Corp. where you worked for twenty years. What is the most notable change during the past year?

A:Compared to the time I was at Nichia, I am now three times busier. Right before quitting my previous job, I had nothing to do in front of my desk, unable to directly involve myself in researches because all instructions were given from my boss to my subordinates, passing straight through me. Since moving to the university, I have been coming to the office as early as six in the morning and working until ten in the evening. I work even on holidays and I have no time to relax.

Q: You have decided to move to the U.S. because you saw that there were limits to the Japanese system that did not fairly assess the achievements of individual engineers. Have you changed your views on the Japanese system since then?

A:I feel stronger than ever that Japan lacks freedom. Here in the U.S., there are no rank relationships when doing researches. This country truly operates on the merit system and liberalism. Students and professors work on researches on even terms as researchers. Unlike in the U.S., seniority exerts great influence in Japan and rank relationships are formed based on titles. The fact that rank-and-file employees can rarely have the opportunity to directly talk with the company president well represents Japan's lingering outdated system.

Q: Do you think that the ways you do researches as professor of the university have changed dramatically compared to the time you worked as researcher of Nichia?

A:Now, I must study more the logics of context behind a certain phenomenon. When I was working at Nichia, I had to place priority on creating new products rather than investigating logics. Working in a university is different because I cannot teach my students unless I completely understand the logics. From this year, I have been giving 90 minutes lectures to seven to eight students in doctoral programs twice a week. Preparations for the lectures require an incredible amount of time and effort. Every time before the class begins, I have anxiety over whether I am really capable of teaching them. I had never had the experience of giving lectures and had never been fond of teaching people in a formal way. But once started teaching at the university, I began to realize that I could learn a lot by teaching others.