Professor Nick Holonyak, Jr., three ECE alumni inducted into Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame

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By Rick Kubetz
March 27, 2006

  • ECE Professor Nick Holonyak was inducted for the invention of the first light-emitting diode.
  • Alumni Donald Blitzer, Robert H. Wilson, and H. Gene Slottow were inducted for inventing the plasma display.
  • This year's 12 inductees will join the 97 others who have been inducted since the CE Hall of Fame was created in 2000.

Innovations and innovators are nothing new to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That fact was reinforced recently when the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced its new class of inductees into the Consumer Electronics (CE) Hall of Fame. Four of those honored—one third of the 2006 class—hailed from the University of Illinois.

New inductee Nick Holonyak Jr., the John Bardeen Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Physics at Illinois, invented the first light-emitting diode in 1962 while at General Electric. He is internationally recognized for major contributions to elemental and compound semiconductors, including semiconductor lasers and incoherent light emitters.

In collaboration with ECE Professor Milton Feng, Holonyak co-invented the transistor laser that combines the functionality of both a transistor and a laser by converting electrical input signals into two output signals—one electrical and one optical. Holonyak is the first to make electron devices using III-V semiconductor alloys and to demonstrate quantum-well heterostructure lasers, now used in compact disc players and fiber-optic cables. He also was the first to demonstrate stable native oxides on aluminum-bearing III-V compounds, now the basis for vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers.

With more than 500 journal papers and 34 patents to his credit, Holonyak is one of only 13 Americans to have won both the National Medal of Science (1990) and the National Medal of Technology, presented by President Bush in 2002. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences and, in 2004, he won the Lemelson-MIT Prize-the world’s largest single cash prize for invention.

Three College of Engineering alumni—Donald Blitzer (BS 1955, MS 1956, PhD 1960, electrical engineering), Robert H. Willson (BS 1959, engineering physics; MS 1961, Physics; PhD 1966, electrical engineering), and the late H. Gene Slottow (PhD 1964, electrical engineering)—were inducted into the CE Hall of Fame for inventing the plasma display in 1960, the precursor to today’s high-definition plasma televisions. The monitor was a result of work the faculty at the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL) had been doing in developing the first computer-assisted instructional program in the world: PLATO, Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations.

As one of the most distinguished faculty members in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Illinois, Bitzer realized early in PLATO’s development that a display with memory was needed to make the system successful. He and his colleagues—Slottow, then a senior research engineer, and Willson , who was working as an assistant in the Coordinated Science Lab helping to develop PLATO —subsequently devised an electronic display in which each pixel on the screen glowed like a little neon sign. The plasma panel was both a display and a storage device.

The plasma monitor accepted digital information directly from the computer and stored it on the panel, solving the scalability problem that plagued the use of cathode ray tubes in computer display monitors. This invention has enabled the development of large-screen flat-panel televisions for modern TV and DVD technologies, which earned the inventors the Scientific and Technological Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2002.

Since retiring from the University of Illinois in 1989, Bitzer has been a Distinguished University Research Professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Slottow became an associate professor in electrical engineering at Illinois in 1968. He retired from the university in 1986, and passed away in March 1989.

Willson received his PhD in electrical engineering in 1966, moving to Baltimore, Maryland, where he spent his career working for Westinghouse and other companies in systems analysis. Twenty-five years ago, he decided to put that work behind him to pursue his passion—studying the convergence of science and spirituality—as an ordained minister and dean of a seminary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Other inductees in this year’s CE Hall of Fame include Robert W. Galvin, who steered Motorola from 1959 to 1990, and Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore, two of the three co-founders of Intel (the third co-founder, Robert Noyce, was inducted in 2000). Joining the group are industry executives Jack Doyle of Pioneer America, Howard Ladd of Sanyo, John Roach of Radio Shack, retailer A.J. Richard, and George Heilmeier, inventor of the commercial liquid crystal display (LCD).

“The accomplishments of the individuals who are entering the Hall of Fame this year are simply amazing,” said CEA President & CEO Gary Shapiro. “Their inventions and leadership laid the groundwork for today’s digital products and technologies, enhancing the way consumers around the world work, live and play.”

The 2006 class will be inducted at the annual CE Hall of Fame awards dinner during CEA’s Industry Forum next fall in San Francisco. The 12 inductees will join the 97 inventors, industry executives, engineers, retailers, and journalists already inducted since the CE Hall of Fame was created in 2000.

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About CEA:

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the preeminent trade association promoting growth in the consumer technology industry through technology policy, events, research, promotion and the fostering of business and strategic relationships.

CEA represents more than 2,100 corporate members involved in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and integration of audio, video, mobile electronics, wireless and landline communications, information technology, home networking, multimedia and accessory products, as well as related services that are sold through consumer channels. For more information, see www.CE.org.

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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