ECE Professor to Receive Lemelson-MIT Prize
By James Kloeppel, U of I News Bureau
April 15, 2004
- Nick Holonyak Jr. has been selected as the 2004 recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Prize - the world's largest single cash prize for invention.
- Among his other inventions and discoveries, Holonyak developed the first practical light-emitting diode in 1962. Today, these long-lasting, low-heat light sources illuminate everything from alarm clocks to the NASDAQ billboard in New York's Times Square.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Nick Holonyak Jr., a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been selected as the 2004 recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Prize - the world's largest single cash prize for invention.
Holonyak will receive the prize - awarded annually to an individual who demonstrates remarkable inventiveness and creativity, and a proven commitment to inspiring others - at an awards ceremony on Friday, April 23, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
Among his other inventions and discoveries, Holonyak developed the first practical light-emitting diode in 1962. Today, these long-lasting, low-heat light sources illuminate everything from alarm clocks to the NASDAQ billboard in New York's Times Square.
Light-emitting diodes produce more lumens per watt than both incandescent and halogen lighting sources, making them more environmentally friendly and cost effective. The LED's long life span (about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb) makes it ideal for use in automotive dashboards and taillights, traffic signals and consumer electronics.
Merton Flemings, the director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which sponsors the award, cited the scope of Holonyak's work, as well as his impact on future generations of inventors, as important reasons the prize board chose him to receive this year's prize.
"Nick Holonyak's work is present in many of the electronic devices we use today," Flemings said. "Within the next decade, LEDs could potentially make the incandescent light bulb obsolete. Equally important, Nick Holonyak has mentored countless students who have pursued science and technology as a means to improve our world."
The son of Slavic immigrants who settled in Southern Illinois, Holonyak earned his bachelor's degree in 1950, his master's in 1951, and his doctorate in 1954, all in electrical engineering from Illinois. Holonyak was the first graduate student of two-time Nobel laureate John Bardeen, an Illinois professor who invented the transistor. An early researcher in semiconductor electronics, Holonyak gained eminence through his numerous inventions and contributions to advances in semiconductor materials and devices.
Before joining the Illinois faculty in 1963, Holonyak worked for Bell Telephone Labs, where he helped develop silicon-diffused transistor technology. Several years later, while at General Electric, he invented the first practical light-emitting diode and the first semiconductor laser to operate in the visible spectrum. He also developed the first electronic devices in III-V compound semiconductor alloys (III and V referring to places in the periodic table of the elements), and is the inventor of the basic silicon device used in household light-dimmer switches.
At Illinois, Holonyak and his students demonstrated the first quantum-well laser, creating a practical laser for fiber-optic communications, compact disc players, medical diagnosis, surgery, ophthalmology and many other applications.
In the early 1980s, his group introduced impurity-induced layer disordering, which converts layers of a semiconductor structure into an alloy that has important electronic properties. In one use, this discovery solved the problem of a laser's low reliability. Such lasers exhibit enhanced performance and durability, making them ideal for DVD players and other optical storage equipment.
During the last decade, Holonyak and his students invented a process that enables the formation of high-quality oxide layers on any aluminum-bearing III-V compound semiconductor. The oxide process has had a major impact on vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers, making them practical for such applications as optical and data communications. His current research focuses on light-emitting transistors. Though still in the early stages of development, light-emitting transistors could dramatically improve the speed and availability of electronic communications.
Among Holonyak's many awards are the Global Energy Prize from Russia (2003), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honor (2003), the U.S. National Medal of Technology (2002), the Frederic Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America (2001), the Japan Prize (1995), the National Academy of Sciences' Award for the Industrial Application of Science (1993), the Optical Society's Charles Hard Townes Award (1992) and the U.S. National Medal of Science (1990). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the IEEE, the Optical Society of America and is a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Eight of his 60 doctoral students are members of the National Academy of Engineering.
One of America's most prolific inventors, Jerome H. Lemelson (1923-1997), and his wife, Dorothy, established the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy committed to honoring the contributions of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, and to inspiring ingenuity in others.
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