Shunning The Light of Men

In 1927, Oleg Losev, a Russian scientist and inventor, extended a single-page publication of Henry Joseph Round. The publication that Round produced was only a few paragraphs long and hardly gained the attention of anyone significant in modern science for nearly twenty years; this publication was based on the effect of a direct current being passed through a silicon carbide point contact junction. This effect emitted a weak green-colored light — what we now know as the first example of a Light-Emitting Diode (LED).

Losev’s extensive research on this phenomenon included establishing a formal theory on how it worked and even how this effect could be used in practical applications. Losev’s research on light emission was so extensive, that he was able to link this effect to a new type of science discovered around the same time — Quantum Mechanics. In fact, Losev theorized that the light-emitting effect that he observed was an inverse of the photoelectric effect that Albert Einstein discovered in 1905. Losev published his findings in a Russian journal and even sent a letter to Einstein to explain his findings; Einstein never replied.

Between 1922 and 1945, Russia was either in a state of strict communism or at war with Germany. In 1942, at the Siege of Leningrad, Losev and his family died of starvation.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that more observations on LEDs were made; inexpensive commercial applications for these diodes were not produced until the 1970s and it wasn’t until 2006 that the first white LED was invented. Only recently was Oleg Losev recognized as the discoverer of LEDs.

Reading such a timeline is so disheartening to me. It is amazing how, especially in this example, conflict and war can have such a profound effect on our development as a species on this earth. This begs the question — how much more advanced would technology and our way of life be without war and conflict? How many amazing minds have been silenced or unheard in the battles of men?

I take these thoughts with me now and distill them into my career and personal life. As I work, side-by-side, with some of the smartest people I know, I have to take care not to let my frustrations get in the way of the potential discoveries and applications that could come to fruition. I have to discern the desires of personal success from the ambitions of a team and of a company and know when to choose the goals of the collective over my own.

In history, success is not always about being the first to discover something, but rather, about being the first to engage the masses, to spread your news in a way that others deem it valuable and worthwhile. For Oleg Losev, I can’t help but think that Einstein’s lack of response might have had something to do with his nationality, not his devotion to science. If Losev was French, German, or British, would we be using LEDs thirty years ago? What would we be using now?

We should not be so quick to shun others because of their beliefs, lifestyle, nationality, dress code, punctuality, confidence, problem solving approach, or way of thinking. For all we know, we may very well be passing over something that could change the world for the better and a person deserving of the accolades that come with it.