Nick and Katherine Holonyak, Jr. Graduate Student Award

Established 2002

Nick Holonyak Jr.

Nick Holonyak Jr. is a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A renowned inventor, Holonyak is perhaps best known for developing 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.

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 for invention (2004), 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. His work has resulted in more than 500 journal papers and 31 patents.


The Nick and Katherine Holonyak, Jr. Graduate Student Award was established in 2002 to recognize a doctoral student who has participated in technological research in semiconductor optoelectronics and the high speed microelectronics area. 


The awardees are selected using the following criteria:

  • The award recipient shall be enrolled in the PhD program of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;
  • The award recipient shall have successfully passed his or her qualifying examination; and
  • The award recipient shall demonstrate excellence in research in the area of semiconductor optoelectronics or high speed microelectronics.


The online application forms will be advertised on My.ECE. A complete application should consist of the student’s resume, his/her list of publications, and 2 letters of recommendation (one from the research adviser).


All applications for the Award will be judged by the ECE Graduate Fellowship Committee based on the above criteria.


The recipient(s) will be recognized during an annual Student Awards Banquet. All student recipients are featured on the second floor of the ECE Building's Student Honors Wall.

Past Recipients of the Award

Year Recipients
2022-2023 Mijung Kim, Alexander Pietros, Haonan Wu
2021-2022 Nusrat Jahan, Wenning Fu
2020-2021 Pankul Dhingra, Yi-Chia Tsai
2019-2020 Patrick Su
2018-2019 Richard Liu, Junyi Qiu
2017-2018 Ruochen Lu, Curtis Wang
2016-2017 Michael Liu
2015-2016 Lan Yu
2014-2015 Zhida Xu
2013-2014 Young Mo Kang, Mong-Kai Wu
2012-2013 Amir Arbabi, Meng Peun Tan
2011-2012 Kuang-Yu Cheng, Chien-Yao Lu
2010-2011 Chao-Hsin Wu
2009-2010 Varun Verma
2008-2009 Adam James
2007-2008 Paul Leisher
2006-2007 Bing-Ruey Wu
2005-2006 Walid Hafez
2004-2005 Piotr Kondratko
2003-2004 Hung-Cheng Lin