The background physics behind the discovery of the LED had been known at least since 1907, when HJ Round, an English wireless expert working as an engineer for Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Co. in New Jersey, discovered electroluminescence in a diode at semiconductors – light that was not visible to the human eye, only through instruments.
Dr. Holonyak was working at General Electric’s Advanced Semiconductor Laboratory in Syracuse, New York, when a fellow chemist was working on making a semiconductor laser using invisible infrared light. Out of a competitive spirit, Dr. Holonyak recalled thinking, “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them because I’ve made this alloy that’s in the “red” — visible. And I’ll be able to see what’s going on. And they are blocked in the infrared.
When Dr. Holonyak developed a light-emitting diode – a solid-state light source that emits light when an electric current passes through it – he was literally showing the world in a whole new light. It glowed intensely red, thanks to the gallium arsenide phosphide crystals he used in the diode.
“It’s a good thing I was an engineer and not a chemist,” he said in a 2012 GE interview. “When I went to show them my LED, all the chemists at GE said, ‘You can’t do that. If you were a chemist, you would know that wouldn’t work. I said, ‘Well, I just did it, and you see, it works!’ ”
His colleagues called him “the Magic One”.
Nevertheless, it took several more decades and the contributions of several researchers for the technology to become more reliable for everyday commercial use, not only in homes and businesses, but also by municipalities for lighting streets and signs.
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Experts say LEDs use up to 75% less energy than incandescent sources and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent and halogen light sources. His work is now used in airport runway lights, airplane cabins and miners’ helmet lamps, an issue close to his heart as the son of an immigrant Ukrainian coal miner.
More recently, Dr. Holonyak helped create a technique to bend light in gallium arsenide chips, a development that allows computer chips to transmit information through light rather than electricity. He also helped develop, with fellow Illinois professor Milton Cheng, the transistor laser, using light and electrical outputs that could improve next-generation high-speed communication technologies.
It’s estimated that LEDs can save $30 billion a year in energy costs in the United States alone, reduce the need for conventional coal and gas-fired power plants, and cut carbon emissions by tens of metric tons a year. And unlike neon products, they contain no mercury and are therefore more environmentally friendly.
“Nick Holonyak is a national treasure,” said Mary Beth Gotti, director of the GE Lighting & Electrical Institute at Nela Park in East Cleveland, in a GE account. “His curiosity and drive to explore and invent has inspired thousands of students and countless innovations. It’s breathtaking to see the widespread and profound impact of “the magic one” that Nick Holonyak brought to life 50 years ago.
Nikola Holonyak was born in Zeigler, Illinois on November 3, 1928, and grew up in Glen Carbon, Illinois. His father had emigrated nearly two decades earlier from a poor coal-mining area in the Ukrainian Carpathians.
“He arrived by boat in Baltimore, with $2 in his pocket,” Dr. Holonyak told the Big Ten TV news network in 2011, “and started walking all the way to Pennsylvania because he knew he There were coal miners there All he knew [in English] was ‘Mr. Boss, give me a job. Miners were paid 38 cents per ton of coal mined. Most of the men in town were coal miners, so I understand broken Slavic almost perfectly.
His father survived the 1914 mine explosion in Royalton, Illinois that killed 52 miners by crawling through an air shaft to safety and then told his son not to. work in the mines. The young Holonyak first worked on the Illinois Central Railroad as a “gandy dancer” – laying down railroad ties 10 hours a day, six days a week for 65 cents an hour – before telling himself “to hell with that”.
He became the first in his family to pursue higher education, earning his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees (the last in 1954) at the University of Illinois. He went on to work for Bell Labs, the Army Signal Corps and General Electric before joining the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1963, recruited by his graduate school mentor John Bardeen, a two-time Nobel laureate. of physics. (At Illinois, Dr. Holonyak held the Bardeen Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics.)
In 1955, he married the former Katherine “Kay” Jerger. She is his only immediate survivor.
President George H. W. Bush awarded Dr. Holonyak the National Medal of Science in 1990 for “his contributions as one of the nation’s most prolific inventors of semiconductor materials and devices”. President George W. Bush then awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2002 and Queen Elizabeth of England presented him with the Queen Elizabeth Award for Engineering in 2021.
He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America, among other organizations. Dr. Holonyak also became known to his students for his fitness, challenging them to do many push-ups or how far they could walk on their hands in the college gymnasium. He rarely lost.
“Nick was known not only for his discipline and hard work, but also for his willingness to speak and engage with colleagues and students, and share stories from his past,” wrote Rashid Bashir, Dean of Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. E-mail. “He was provided with a nice independent office, but he preferred to be in the lab around the students and where the research was going on. He used to train regularly at Kenny’s gymnasium on the UIUC campus and was known to challenge others to runs, handstands, etc. etc He was dedicated to making the world a better place by learning, teaching, and researching.
On the 2011 Big Ten TV show, Don Scifres, an Illinois student who studied with Dr. Holonyak and earned his doctorate in 1972, said, “He said life is about making the world better people who don’t have that as a goal, I don’t know what they live for.