Obituary - Professor Nick Holonyak Jr

Categories: QEPrize

23 September 2022


Trustees, judges and staff of The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) Foundation would like to extend their deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Professor Nick Holonyak Jr following his death on 18th September 2022.

One of the five laureates of the QEPrize in 2021, Professor Holonyak will be remembered for his ground-breaking contribution to the creation and development of LED lighting, the basis of all solid-state lighting technology. He was often called the “Godfather” of LEDs and the impact of his work will continue to benefit society for generations to come.

The QEPrize Foundation was honoured to be able to present Professor Holonyak with the recognition he deserved. As we look ahead into an age of unique economic and environmental challenges, his contribution will become ever-more vital as LEDs continue to enable huge savings in energy consumption and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Born in Illinois, USA in 1928, Professor Holonyak studied electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, gaining his PhD in 1954. He joined Bell Telephone Laboratories for a year and then, after military service, worked for GE 1957-63. While there he invented the shorted emitter (1958) – a switching device used in thyristors - semiconductors made from four layers - including the element used in a wall light dimmer.

He invented the first (red) visible-light light emitting diode in 1962 as well as group III-V compound semiconductors containing either three or four different elements. Holonyak used these alloys to create semiconductors with specific properties. This work underpins the worldwide industry of all modern LEDs since it led to the development of high-brightness, high-efficiency white LEDs.

Professor Holonyak returned to the University of Illinois as professor in 1963 and was the John Bardeen Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics and the ECE Professor in the Center of Advanced Study. Throughout his career he continually improved and developed semiconductors and was the first to make silicon tunnel diodes, leading to both higher performance lasers and red LEDs.

In addition to being a QEPrize laurate, Professor Holonyak held the National Medal of Science (USA, 1990); the Japan Prize (1995); the Global Energy International Prize (Russia, 2003); and the IEEE Medal of Honor (2003). In 2017 he was awarded the IEEE Edison Medal for pioneering developments that ushered in the era of solid state lighting.

We join the engineering community in mourning Professor Holonyak as a pioneer who captured the spirit of the QEPrize, an award which celebrates engineering innovation which is of global benefit to humanity.

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