Much of our life today depends on lighting and other products that incorporate light-emitting diodes (LEDs). From the lights that illuminate our homes to high-definition televisions and monitors, phones, computers, and other smart technologies, the widespread use of LEDs vastly improves the quality of illumination while using significantly less power and having a longer shelf life.
And, for his pioneering work in the development of modern LEDs, we thank Nick Holonyak, a research engineer at General Electric who went on to a life-long career in academia, and who passed away in mid-September. He was 93 years old.
Holonyak, the son of immigrants from what is now Western Ukraine, was born in 1928 in Illinois and found his love of all things electric while helping his godfather repair the spark coils on his Model T Ford. He was the first in his family to receive a formal education and went on to major in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, where he earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
Following the completion of his military service with the Army Signal Corps in Japan in 1957, Holonyak worked at General Electric’s Advanced Semiconductor Laboratory in Syracuse, NY. It was while working at GE that he created phosphide crystals composed of gallium arsenide that emitted a visible red light.
Holonyak then went back to the University of Illinois in 1963 and spend the next 50 years teaching electrical engineering and continuing to conduct research into various electrical technologies, including lighting and transistor lasers. In the end, he held 41 separate patents and won many notable engineering and technology awards from the National Academy of Engineering, including the National Medals of both Science and Technology, and the Draper Prize.
Holonyak is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Katherine.