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Illinois professor to receive award
from Materials Research Society
E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
by Bill Wiegand
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.
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 Von Hippel Award from 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
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 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.