Franklin Institute honors Holonyak with coveted award


Khushboo Jain, ECE ILLINOIS

The Franklin Institute announced John Bardeen Endowed Chair Emeritus  Nick Holonyak, Jr (BSEE '50, MS '51, PhD '54) as one of eight awardees of the coveted Benjamin Franklin Award for Electrical Engineering on Monday, October 17. The institute recognized him for the development of the first visible red laser and LED and the use of various alloys in colored light sources. These discoveries reduced energy consumption worldwide and contributed to the realization of optical data communications as the backbone of the Internet. The Franklin Institute Award dates back to 1824, and the list of Franklin Institute laureates includes many famous scientists, including Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Rudolf Diesel, Pierre and Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and Stephen Hawking. Several luminaries with ties to Illinois are also Franklin Institute laureates—longtime ECE and Physics Professor and two-time Nobelist John Bardeen, ECE alumnus and Nobelist Jack Kilby, and ECE alumnus and former faculty member Chih-Tang Sah.

Nick Holonyak, Jr.
Nick Holonyak, Jr.

An Illinois alumnus, Holonyak joined his alma mater as a faculty member in 1963 at the invitation of his doctoral adviser John Bardeen, the two-time Nobel Physics laureate and inventor of the transistor. During the next four decades, Holonyak and his students introduced several major optics-related inventions to the world. Holonyak’s best known invention is the world’s first practical LED he created while at General Electric in 1962. His GaAsP visible red LED proved that III-V alloys were viable, important materials for making devices. Today, all high-brightness LEDs, heterojunctions, quantum wells, and lasers are made from III-V alloy materials.

Holonyak continued his prolific research at Illinois, leading to many outstanding accomplishments such as the demonstration of the first quantum-well laser in 1970. Today, quantum-wells are a part of all high-performance LEDs and lasers. In the 1980s, he introduced impurity-induced layer disordering. Throughout the 1990’s, Holonyak created a process for forming high-quality oxide layers in and on aluminum-bearing III-V compound semiconductors, which has made vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers practical in many applications. By 2004, Holonyak and ECE ILLINOIS Professor Milton Feng invented the world’s first transistor laser, a three-terminal device that offers the potential for much faster broadband communications. Holonyak currently holds 41 patents.

The Franklin Institute is one of America's most celebrated museums—a renowned leader of science and technology. The Franklin medal is a pivotal addition to Holonyak’s collection of awards and honors. It recognizes him for a lifetime of dedication to pioneering research in optics and engineering.

Learn more about the award and its other recipients in this article by the Philadelphia Inquirer.