Illinois professor to receive award from Materials Research Society

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By James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
August 24, 2004

  • Nick Holonyak Jr., a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, has been selected as the 2004 Von Hippel Award winner by the Materials Research Society. The award will be presented Dec. 1 at the MRS meeting in Boston.
  • Holonyak is being recognized for “his many contributions to research and development in the field of semiconductors, not least for the first development of semiconducting lasers in the useful visible portion of the optical spectrum.”

Nick  Holonyak, Jr
Nick Holonyak, Jr

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nick Holonyak Jr., a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, has been selected as the 2004 Von Hippel Award winner by the Materials Research Society. The award will be presented Dec. 1 at the MRS meeting in Boston.

Holonyak is being recognized for “his many contributions to research and development in the field of semiconductors, not least for the first development of semiconducting lasers in the useful visible portion of the optical spectrum.”

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.

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 Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004), 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.

The highest award of the society, the Von Hippel Award recognizes “brilliance and originality of intellect, combined with vision extending beyond the boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines.” The award consists of $10,000 and a ruby laser crystal symbolizing the many-faceted nature of materials research.

Founded in 1973, the MRS has more than 12,600 members from the United States and more than 50 other nations.

For more news, visit the Illinois News Bureau at <http://www.news.illinois.edu>.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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