Nick Holonyak


Nick Holonyak Jr.[1] (born November 3, 1928) is an American engineer and educator.[2] He is noted particularly for his 1962 invention of a light-emitting diode (LED) that emitted visible red light instead of infrared light; Holonyak demonstrated the LED on October 9, 1962 while working at General Electric's research laboratory in Syracuse, New York.[3][4] He is a John Bardeen Endowed Chair Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he has been since leaving General Electric in 1963.[5]

Nick Holonyak Jr.[1]
Nick Holonyak Jr.jpg
Inventor of the visible-spectrum (red) LED
Born (1928-11-03) November 3, 1928 (age 93)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; BS 1950, MS 1951, PhD 1954
Known forInventing The Red LED
AwardsNational Academy of Engineering (1973)
National Academy of Sciences (1984),
IEEE Edison Medal (1989)
National Medal of Science (1990)
National Medal of Technology (2002)
IEEE Medal of Honor (2003)
Global Energy Prize (2003)
Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004)
National Inventors Hall of Fame (2008)
Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (2021)
Scientific career
FieldsElectrical engineering
ThesisEffect of Surface Conditions on Characteristics of Rectifier Junctions (1954)
Doctoral advisorJohn Bardeen


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).[6]

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, co-authored 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,[7] and as LEDs improve in quality and efficiency they are gradually replacing incandescents as the bulb of choice.


His parents were Rusyn immigrants.[2][8] Holonyak's father worked in a coal mine. Holonyak was the first member of his family to receive any type of formal schooling.[6] 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."[9]

Holonyak earned his bachelor's (1950), master's (1951), and doctoral (1954) degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.[6] Holonyak was John Bardeen's first Ph.D. student there; Bardeen, a theoretical physicist, was the co-inventor of the transistor who ultimately won Nobel Prizes for that work and for the theory of superconductivity.[10] In 1954 Holonyak went to Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he worked on silicon-based electronic devices. From 1955–1957 he served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. From 1957–1963 he was a scientist at the General Electric Company's Advanced Semiconductor Laboratory in Syracuse, New York.[11] In 1963, he became a professor at the University of Illinois, from which he retired fifty years later in 2013.

University of IllinoisEdit

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[6] 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.[7]

10 of his 60 former doctoral students have developed new uses for LED technology at Philips Lumileds Lighting Company in Silicon Valley.[4]

Awards and honorsEdit

Holonyak has been presented awards by George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Emperor Akihito of Japan and Vladimir Putin.[6]

In 1973, Holonyak was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to development of semiconductor controlled rectifiers, light emitting diodes and diode lasers.

In 1984, Holonyak was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.[12]

In 1989, he 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.[6]

In 1992, he received the Charles Hard Townes Award[13] of the Optical Society of America.

In 1993, he received the NAS Award for the Industrial Application of Science.[14]

In 1995, he was awarded the $500,000 Japan Prize for 'Outstanding contributions to research and practical applications of light emitting diodes and lasers.'[7]

In 2001, he has also received the Frederic Ives Medal[15] of the Optical Society of America.

In 2003, he was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor.

In 2005, he was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in the area of Science.[16]

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.[17]

In 2008, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (Announced February 14, 2008) (May 2–3, 2008 at Akron, Ohio).[18]

In 2015, he received the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering "For the invention, development, and commercialization of materials and processes for light-emitting diodes (LEDs)."

In September 2018 the Village of Glen Carbon, IL placed an honorary street sign on behalf of Dr. Nick Holonyak to honor the former resident of the Village. Village officials, family, and friends gathered to honor and remember Dr. Holonyak who lived with his family on South Meridian Road.

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.[7]

Many colleagues have expressed their belief that he deserves the Nobel Prize for his invention of the red 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."[6] In October 2014, Holonyak reversed his stance by stating "I find this one insulting." in reaction to news that the inventors of the blue LED were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, instead of his fellow LED researchers.

In 2021, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering “for the creation and development of LED lighting, which forms the basis of all solid-state lighting technology.” He shares the prize with his former students M. George Craford and Russel D. Dupuis, and Isamu Akasaki and Shuji Nakamura, inventors of the Blue LED.[19]


  1. ^ a b Nick Holonyak was elected in 1973 as a member of National Academy of Engineering in Electronics, Communication & Information Systems Engineering and Materials Engineering for contributions to development of semiconductor controlled rectifiers, light emitting diodes and diode laser.
  2. ^ a b "Nick Holonyak". 2015-02-19. Retrieved 2019-04-06.
  3. ^ Kubetz, Rick (May 4, 2012). "Nick Holonyak, Jr., six decades in pursuit of light". University of Illinois. Retrieved 2020-07-07.
  4. ^ a b Wolinsky, Howard (February 5, 2005). "U. of I.'s Holonyak out to take some of Edison's luster". The Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 25, 2016. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  5. ^ Damery, Jonathan (August 5, 2013). "Holonyak retires after 50 years in ECE". University of Illinois.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "After Glow". Illinois Alumni Magazine. May–June 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d Port, Otis (May 23, 2005). "Nick Holonyak: He Saw The Lights". Business Week. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  8. ^ "Illinois Distributed Museum - Nick Holonyak, Jr". IDM Illinois Distributed Museum. IDM. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  9. ^ Von, Jon (January 25, 2003). "Nice Guys Can Finish As Geniuses at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  10. ^ ECE Illinois – Faculty – ECE Illinois – U of I
  11. ^ "Nick Holonyak, Jr. - Biography". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  12. ^ NAS Member Profile of Nick Holonyak
  13. ^ Charles Hard Townes Award
  14. ^ Recipient list of NAS Award for the Industrial Application of Science winners. Archived 2015-01-08 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Frederic Ives Medal
  16. ^ "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  17. ^ "Holonyak Historical Marker Unveiled". University of Illinois College of Engineering. 2007-11-15. Retrieved 2007-11-30.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "News | Engineering at Illinois | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign". Archived from the original on 2020-03-14. Retrieved 2008-06-10.
  19. ^ Touchstone, Liz Ahlberg. "Nick Holonyak Jr., pioneer of LED lighting, awarded Queen Elizabeth Prize". Retrieved 8 February 2021.

External linksEdit

  • IEEE Legacies
  • Nick_Holonyak-Jr US National Medal of Technology, 2002.
  • Oral History interview transcript with Nick Holonyak 23 March 2005, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives
  • The Bright Stuff: The LED and Nick Holonyak's fantastic trail of innovation. Laura Schmitt. 2012.