Nick Holonyak, Jr. (born November 3, 1928, in Zeigler, Illinois) invented the first practically useful visible LED in 1962 while working as a consulting scientist at a General Electric Company laboratory in Syracuse, New York and has been called "the father of the light-emitting diode". He is a John Bardeen Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics and Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he has been since 1963.
In addition to introducing the III-V alloy LED, Holonyak holds 41 patents. His other inventions include the red-light semiconductor laser, usually called the laser diode (used in CD and DVD players and cell phones) and the shorted emitter p-n-p-n switch (used in light dimmers and power tools). He helped create the first light dimmer while at GE.
In 2006, the American Institute of Physics decided on the five most important papers in each of its journals since it was founded 75 years ago. Two of these five papers, in the journal Applied Physics Letters, were co-authored by Holonyak. The first one, coauthored with S. F. Bevacqua in 1962, announced the creation of the first visible-light LED. The second, co-authored primarily with Milton Feng in 2005, announced the creation of a transistor laser that can operate at room temperatures. Holonyak predicted that his LEDs would replace the incandescent light bulb of Thomas Edison in the February 1963 issue of Reader's Digest, and as LEDs improve in quality and efficiency they are gradually replacing incandescents as the bulb of choice.
Holonyak's parents were Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Southern Illinois; Holonyak's father worked in a coal mine. Holonyak was the first member of his family to receive any type of formal schooling. He once worked 30 straight hours on the Illinois Central Railroad before realizing that a life of hard labor was not what he wanted and he'd prefer to go to school instead. According to Knight Ridder, "The cheap and reliable semiconductor lasers critical to DVD players, bar code readers and scores of other devices owe their existence in some small way to the demanding workload thrust upon Downstate railroad crews decades ago."
Holonyak was John Bardeen's first Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. (1954) from the same university. He created the first visible semiconductor lasers in 1960. In 1963, he again joined Dr. Bardeen, the co-inventor of the transistor, at the University of Illinois and worked on quantum wells and quantum-well lasers.
University of Illinois
As of 2007, he is the John Bardeen Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is investigating methods for manufacturing quantum dot lasers. He has been married to his wife Katherine for 51 years. He no longer teaches classes, but he researches full-time. He and Dr. Milton Feng run a transistor laser research center at the University funded by $6.5 million from the United States Department of Defense through DARPA.
10 of his 60 former doctoral students develop new uses for LED technology at Philips Lumileds Lighting Company in Silicon Valley.
Awards and honors
Holonyak has been presented awards by George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Emperor Akihito of Japan and Vladimir Putin.
In 1989, Holonyak received the IEEE Edison Medal for 'an outstanding career in the field of electrical engineering with contributions to major advances in the field of semiconductor materials and devices.' Holonyak's former student, Russell Dupuis from the Georgia Institute of Technology, won this same award in 2007.
In 1995, he was awarded the $500,000 Japan Prize for 'Outstanding contributions to research and practical applications of light emitting diodes and lasers.
In 2003, he was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor.
He has also received the Global Energy International Prize, the National Medal of Technology, the Order of Lincoln Medallion, and the 2004 Lemelson-MIT Prize, also worth $500,000. He has also received the Frederic Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America.
Many colleagues have expressed their belief that he deserves the Nobel Prize for his invention of the LED. On this subject, Holonyak says, "It's ridiculous to think that somebody owes you something. We're lucky to be alive, when it comes down to it."
On 9 November 2007, Holonyak was honored on the University of Illinois campus with a historical marker recognizing his development of the quantum-well laser. It is located on the Bardeen Engineering Quadrangle near where the old Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory used to stand.
In 2008, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (Announced February 14, 2008) (May 2–3, 2008 at Akron, Ohio