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to receive $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize
James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
by Bill Wiegand
Holonyak Jr., winner of the 2004 Lemelson-MIT Prize.
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 $500,000
Lemelson-MIT Prize – the world's largest single cash prize for
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
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
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.