CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As reported by Illinois.edu, Nick Holonyak Jr., a renowned innovator of illumination, died Sept. 18 in Urbana, Ill. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor was 93 years old.
Holonyak (pronounced huh-LON-yak) is credited with the development of the first practical visible-spectrum LED, now commonly used worldwide in light bulbs, device displays and lasers.
One of the earliest researchers in semiconductor materials and a pioneer in the field of optoelectronics – devices that convert electricity into light or vice versa – Holonyak also contributed to technologies in household dimmer switches, lasers that run CD and DVD players, fiber-optic communication lines, and other electronics and communications devices. Two presidents recognized Holonyak with national medals – George W. Bush with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2002, and George H. W. Bush with the National Medal of Science in 1990 for “his contributions as one of the Nation’s most prolific inventors in the area of semiconductor materials and devices.”
Holonyak was born Nov. 3, 1928 in Zeigler, Illinois. The son of an immigrant coal miner, he labored on the Illinois Central Railroad before becoming the first in his family to pursue higher education. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Illinois. He then worked for Bell Labs, the U.S. Army Signal Corps and General Electric before joining the U. of I. faculty in 1963.
While working at General Electric, on Oct. 9, 1962, Holonyak demonstrated the first visible-light-emitting diode. While infrared LEDs previously had been made of the material gallium arsenide, Holonyak created crystals of gallium arsenide phosphide to make an LED that would emit a visible red light.
“It’s a good thing I was an engineer and not a chemist. 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’d know that wouldn’t work.’ I said, ‘Well, I just did it, and see, it works!’” Holonyak said in a 2012 interview.
“We have lost a legendary member of our Illinois family, who quite literally led everyone to see the world in a new and better way,” Chancellor Robert J. Jones said.
Holonyak is survived by his wife, Katherine, to whom he was married for more than 60 years.
Among his numerous awards are the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (2021), National Academy of Engineering’s Draper Prize (2015), the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004), the Global Energy Prize from Russia (2003), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honor (2003), the Japan Prize (1995), the National Academy of Sciences’ Award for the Industrial Application of Science (1993) and the Optical Society’s Charles Hard Townes Award (1992).
Holonyak was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Electrical and Electronic Engineering Society, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America and a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.Tagged with obituary, people