Nick Holonyak, Jr.

Nick Holonyak, Jr. was born on November 3rd, 1928.  His parents were Rusyn immigrants who settled in the small, southern Illinois town of Ziegler. Holonyak was the first member of his family to receive formal schooling. Before making schooling his primary trade, Holonyak found he was not suited for hard labor after once working 30 straight hours on the Illinois Central Railroad. According to an interview in 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". 

Nick Holonyak, Jr. , inventor of the LED. 2004

After completing a Bachelors of Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he went on to receive a Master's and Ph.D in electrical engineering from the same program. During this time, he became John Bardeen's first graduate student. While under Bardeen, Holonyak worked on quantum wells and quantum well lasers.  In 1960, he created the first visible semiconductor lasers, which are used today to in CD and DVD players, laser printers, copiers, and other high-tech gadgets. In an article for BusinessWeek, Holonyak said on his red-emitting laser: "I wanted visible light, because I knew that if I could get red light, other colors would be possible". 

After graduating, Holonyak became a part of GE, and it was here that he developed his first Light Emitting Diode (LED) in 1962. The only color of light it was red, but it would soon spark others that covered the full spectrum of the rainbow. This LED was the result of a competition among the top industrial research labs to create the very first semiconductor laser. This discovery has led many scientists to quip that this is a perfect example of how research really works: research in one topic leads to a breakthrough in another. 

After working throughout the 1950s on the tunnel diode- a project that did not go anywhere itself but led to a greater knowledge on making gallium arsenides. According to Robert Hall, a fellow researcher on the tunnel diode, this knowledge was directly applicable during the laser program. 

Beginning in the 1970s, Holonyak also released a series of discoveries related to infrared light. These discoveries led to the diodes that transmit pulses of infrared light over the world's fiber-optic telecommunications networks. 

 Holonyak's latest brainchild is the inferred light emitting transistor (LET). The device's predicted implications include changing  the worlds of telecom and computers by integrating optical and electrical functions on one chip. Holonyak still researches at the University of Illinois, and lives in Ziegler, IL with wife Katherine, who he has been married to for over fifty years. 

Works Cited:

"Nick Holonyak: He Saw The Lights". Business Week. 2005-05-23. Retrieved 2007-08-03.

Schmitt, Laura. (2012). The Bright Stuff: The LED and Nick Holonyak's Fantastic Trail of Innovation. Premier Print Group: Champaign IL.