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Holonyak to receive institute's highest honor

Jim Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
(217) 244-1073;


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 2003 recipient of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honor.

The award, which recognizes Holonyak "for a career of pioneering contributions to semiconductors, including the growth of semiconductor alloys and heterojunctions, and to visible light-emitting diodes and injection lasers," will be presented at the IEEE’s annual honors ceremony in June 2003.

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 compound semiconductors in alloys known as III-V (referring to places in the periodic table of the elements) and 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 more recent research focuses on coupling quantum-dot lasers to quantum-well lasers.

Holonyak, who has had 60 doctoral students (seven of whom have been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering), is the fourth Illinois faculty member to receive the Medal of Honor, IEEE’s highest award. The other faculty member recipients are Bardeen, William Everitt and Paul Lauterbur.

Among Holonyak’s many awards are 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.

The IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional society with more than 377,000 members worldwide. Through its members, the IEEE is a leading authority on areas ranging from aerospace, computers and telecommunications to biomedicine, electric power and consumer electronics. Additional information is available at