Saving Private Ryan, and Longer-Lasting Light Bulbs

A memorable scene in this great flick reminds us of electricity’s role in our culture, and reminds us of Akasaki’s momentous invention.
Today in Fortnightly

"Saving Private Ryan" won five Academy Awards, including Best Director (Steven Spielberg). The 1998 flick was about the post D-Day search for Private Ryan (Matt Damon), who lost three brothers in combat. 

There was this memorable scene:


Captain Miller (Tom Hanks): Vecchio. Caparzo. You see, when... when you end up killing one of your men, you see, you tell yourself it happened so you could save the lives of two or three or ten others. Maybe a hundred others. Do you know how many men I've lost under my command? 

Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore): How many? 

Captain Miller: Ninety-four. But that means I've saved the lives of ten times that many, doesn't it? Maybe even twenty, right? Twenty times as many? And that's how simple it is. That's how you... that's how you rationalize making the choice between the mission and the man. 

Sergeant Horvath: Except this time the mission is the man.

Captain Miller: He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb. The truth is, I wouldn't trade one Ryan for one Vecchio or Caparzo.

Sergeant Miller: Amen.

We're moved by Captain Miller's philosophy about his crushing responsibility, along with his humanity and bravery. But did you notice Miller wants Private Ryan to justify his saving by curing a disease or by inventing a longer-lasting light bulb? Another instance in which our culture paid homage to electricity's bounty. 

It was Isamu Akasaki who did invent the longer-lasting and more efficient light bulb. Akasaki, his assistant Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, for their development of the light-emitting diode, the LED. Specifically, blue LED, critically-important for illuminating in white, that is revolutionizing the way we light our world. 

Next Monday, January 30th, we celebrate Akasaki's eighty-eighth birthday.


In Public Utilities Fortnightly, the magazine for commentary, opinion and debate on utility regulation and policy since 1928, thought-leaders impact the debate.