Holonyak, Nick

2014 Distinguished Alumni Award

For the invention of the LED, semiconductor laser, and the quantum well laser for modern display, lighting, and optical communication.

Nick Holonyak Jr.

Nick Holonyak Jr.

BSEE '50, MSEE '51, PhD '54


Nick Holonyak Jr. was John Bardeen’s first student at ECE ILLINOIS and held a TI fellowship. He worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories (1954-55) and, after military service, at GE (Syracuse, 1957-63) before returning in 1963 to the University of Illinois as a professor. He served as the John Bardeen Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Center of Advanced Study. He retired in 2013.

Holonyak is a pioneer in the field of optoelectronics, devices that convert electricity into light or vice-versa. He gained eminence through his numerous inventions and contributions to advances in semiconductor materials and devices. His innovation contributed to technology in visible LEDs, household dimmer switches, lasers that run CD and DVD players, and fiber-optic communication.

Holonyak is credited with the development of the first practical light emitting diode, or LED, a semiconductor crystal device that emits light when electrified.

With ECE Professor Milton Feng, Holonyak invented the world’s first transistor laser, a device that significantly changes the science and technology of lasers and introduces basic changes in the traditional transistor and what is known about its operation. The result is a fundamentally new transistor and a fundamentally new laser, which is changing the future of high-speed signal processing, integrated circuits, optical communications, supercomputing, and other applications.