Holonyak recognized for his work on III-V alloy semiconductors and quantum wells.

LED inventor named Honorary Member of The Optical Society

University of Illinois Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Emeritus Nick Holonyak, Jr. was named an Honorary Member of the Optical Society (OSA), the leading professional association in optics and photonics, for his numerous technology innovations advancing solid-state lighting, the Internet, high-performance computing, and visible LEDs and quantum-well diode lasers. The Optical Society’s Honorary Membership is the most distinguished membership status a society member may achieve, making Holonyak one of only 47 such members.

“I’m very proud to be an honorary member of OSA,” said Holonyak, the Bardeen Chair Emeritus Professor in ECE and a faculty researcher at the Micro + Nanotechnology Lab. “I’m delighted to have made contributions to LED, quantum-well laser, and transistor laser technology.”

“Nick has an unparalleled legacy within his field, at ECE ILLINOIS, and on the world,” said ECE ILLINOIS Department Head William H. Sanders. “That he’s been chosen as an Honorary Member of the OSA reflects that distinction and celebrates his accomplishments.”

“Holonyak’s seminal innovations are essential to many consumer products used by people all over the world,” said Philip Russell, 2015 President of The Optical Society.  “His work on III-V alloy semiconductors and quantum wells forms the basis of many important commercial devices, from visible LEDs to the Internet. We are honored to recognize such a distinguished contributor to the field of optics.”

Holonyak is perhaps best known for inventing the world’s first practical LED while at General Electric in Syracuse, NY, in 1962. His GaAsP visible red LED proved that III-V alloys were useful, viable, important materials for making devices. Today all high-brightness LEDs, heterojunctions, quantum wells, and lasers (for DVDs, etc.) are made from III-V alloy materials.

An Illinois alumnus, Holonyak (BS 1950, MS 1951, PhD 1954 electrical engineering) returned to his alma mater as a faculty member in 1963 at the invitation of his doctoral advisor, John Bardeen, the two-time Nobel Physics Laureate and inventor of the transistor. During the next four decades, Holonyak and his students gave the world several major optics-related inventions. 

In the 1970s, Holonyak demonstrated the first quantum-well laser. Today, quantum wells are part of all high-performance LEDs and lasers. In the 1980s, he introduced impurity-induced layer disordering, which, besides its fundamental nature in selectively shifting quantum-well layers from low to high band gap, enabled better lasers of more complex geometrical form and greater reliability.

In the 1990s, 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. And in 2004, he and ECE Professor Milton Feng invented the world’s first transistor laser, a three-terminal device that offers the potential for much faster broadband communications, both for long-haul telecommunications networks and for short-haul connections between and within chips for photonic integrated circuits (PICs).

During his faculty career, Holonyak has guided the research and education of 60 doctoral graduate students who in turn have made their own important contributions to furthering III-V semiconductor device technology. These contributions include: the world’s first yellow LED (George Craford, et. al.); a sophisticated MOCVD crystal growth apparatus and techniques to make lasers, LEDs, and transistors (Russ Dupuis, et. al.); large-scale transparent substrate high-performance red and amber LEDs used in countless applications (Fred Kish, et. al.); and the truncated inverted pyramid for extracting more light from an LED (Mike Krames, et. al.).

Other former students have made important contributions to silicon device technology, including the design and development of the large uniform ultra-sensitive silicon charge-coupled devices used on the Hubble Space Telescope (Morley Blouke, et. al.). Ten of his former students have been elected members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Holonyak has received many notable awards for his work, including the Charles Stark Draper Prize, National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology, Japan Prize, Global Energy International Prize, Lemelson-MIT Prize, OSA Ives Medal, and the Charles Hard Townes Award. In 1997, OSA established the Holonyak Award to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to optics based on semiconductor-based optical devices and materials.

Honorary membership at The Optical Society is given to those who have made unique, seminal contributions to the field of optics. The number of living Honorary Members cannot exceed two-thousandths (2/1,000) of the total OSA membership. Election requires the unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. For a complete listing of OSA's honorary members, visit OSA's website.