In recent years, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have begun to change the way we see the world. Now, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student has developed a new type of LED that could allow for their widespread use as light sources for liquid crystal displays (LCDs) on everything from televisions and computers to cell phones and cameras.
Martin Schubert, a doctoral student in electrical, computer, and systems engineering, has developed the first polarized LED, an innovation that could vastly improve LCD screens, conserve energy, and usher in the next generation of ultra-efficient LEDs. Schubert’s innovation has earned him the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize.
“In our community of innovators, the Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize recognizes our most inspired and dedicated students for their ingenuity and deep understanding of the greater global implications of their innovations,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “Martin Schubert is both a talented engineer and inspired entrepreneur. He launched his innovation not only because he had the engineering prowess, but because he also has a remarkable understanding of the technological, environmental, and energy saving outcomes his enlightened innovation will bring. Today we applaud him and the other finalists for their dedication and excellence, and we encourage them to continue to spark informed innovation around the world.”
Schubert is the second recipient of the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student prize. The prize, which was first given in 2007, is awarded to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, or otherwise demonstrated remarkable inventiveness.
Schubert’s polarized LED advances current LED technology in its ability to better control the direction and polarization of the light being emitted. With better control over the light, less energy is wasted producing scattered light, allowing more light to reach its desired location. This makes the polarized LED perfectly suited as a backlighting unit for any kind of LCD, according to Schubert. Its focused light will produce images on the display that are more colorful, vibrant, and lifelike, with no motion artifacts.
Schubert first discovered that traditional LEDs actually produce polarized light, but existing LEDs did not capitalize on the light’s polarization. Armed with this information, he devised an optics setup around the LED chip to enhance the polarization, creating the first polarized LED.
The invention could advance the effort to combine the power and environmental soundness of LEDs with the beauty and clarity of LCDs. Schubert expects that his polarized LED could quickly become commonplace in televisions and monitors around the world, replacing widely used fluorescent lights that are less efficient and laden with mercury. His innovation also could be used for street lighting, high-contrast imaging, sensing, and free-space optics, he said.
Schubert is the son of renowned lighting research expert and senior chair of the Rensselaer Future Chips Constellation, E. Fred Schubert. The younger Schubert, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cornell University in electrical engineering, was set to pursue a career in computer chip development. But his father quickly identified his skills and ideas for the advancement of lighting technology and recruited him to join the large lighting research effort at Rensselaer.
“Martin Schubert has had the opportunity to work in one of the most advanced and well-known lighting research teams in the world,” said Rensselaer Dean of Engineering Alan Cramb. “And Schubert has shown that not only can he keep up in the lab, but he can also independently excel and innovate. His discovery of the first polarized LED marks an important advance in photonics technology that I am sure will resonate in photonics laboratories and companies around the world. Schubert is absolutely a young engineer to watch.”
Under the tutelage of his adviser, Michael Shur, the Patricia W. and C. Sheldon Roberts ’48 Professor of Solid State Electronics and director of the Rensselaer/IBM Center for Broadband Data Transfer Science and Technology, Schubert quickly excelled in the field. As soon as he arrived at Rensselaer, he began working nearly independently on his research, using some of the top research equipment available to the constellation, including a cutting-edge clean room laboratory.
During his time with Rensselaer Schubert has published three peer-reviewed, archival papers and filed for several patent applications on his polarized LEDs. In addition, Schubert is co-author of 15 other papers on related research, including a paper in one of the top journals in his field, Nature Photonics. The Nature research on the world’s first ideal anti-reflective coating was featured in media outlets around the world, from NPR’s “Morning Edition” to the London Daily Telegraph and Scientific American magazine.
Schubert is expected to complete his doctorate in electrical engineering this fall. After graduation he plans to pursue a career in semiconductor devices and photonics.
Schubert was born in Germany and grew up in New Jersey and later the Boston area.
Schubert joins last year’s winner of the Lemelson-Rensselaer student prize, doctoral student Brian Schulkin. Schulkin, who invented the first portable terahertz sensing device, the “Mini-Z”, is currently working on an even smaller device and was recently named to the 2007 Scientific American 50 — the magazine’s prestigious annual list recognizing leadership in science and technology.
The $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995.
Timothy Lu, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, is the 2008 winner for the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Lu has invented processes that promise to enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics and help eradicate layers of bacteria known as biofilms, in order to combat bacterial infections, such as those caused by Escherichia coli biofilms and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also joined Rensselaer as a new partner institution last year with the announcement of the $30,000 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize. The winner of the 2008 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize will be announced during a formal award ceremony on Feb. 28, 2008.
On May 26, the winners of all three student prizes will join together at MIT for a discussion and ceremony to honor all of the winners. In June, the winners will take part in the Lemelson-MIT Program’s second annual EurekaFest, a multiday event to celebrate the inventive spirit in Boston and Cambridge, Mass.