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It's All About the Little Things: Shining a Light on Innovation

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A child watches videos on her phone in a blanket fort decorated with LED string lights.

It started with a faint light, one barely visible to the human eye. Nearly a century later, this light has become something we can’t live without: illuminating the screen through which we conduct most of our business—for work and for pleasure.

Close to half of the world’s population of nine billion people own smartphones, doing all manner of activities on them: checking email, texting friends, posting images, making phone calls. 

It’s a technology that has become ubiquitous. Lamps and fixtures in countless homes are brightened by LED bulbs. The jumbotrons that project a live concert at a stadium? Those are massive amalgams of millions of LED lights. But despite how ever-present LED technology is today, it might surprise many people to know that coming up with a light that uses semiconductors to glow was a process years in the making.

It’s often alluring to imagine a single “a-ha” moment that brought about some of the world’s most important inventions. But many of the core elements of daily life were not sudden discoveries, they were a series of little things.