Professor Nick Holonyak Jr

Nick Holonyak Jr

Nick Holonyak Jr is often called the ‘Godfather’ of LEDs. Born in Illinois, USA in 1928, he 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.

Holonyak returned to the University of Illinois as professor in 1963 and is now the John Bardeen Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics (John Bardeen invented the transistor, Holonyak was Bardeen’s first student) 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. Among his numerous awards are 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.

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The 2021 QEPrize is awarded to the creators of LED lighting

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has been awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Shuji Nakamura, Nick Holonyak Jr, M. George Craford and Russell Dupuis for their work on LED lighting.