There are barely enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe Professor Nick Holonyak and his ground-breaking work.
It's hard to read the story of Professor Nick Holonyak Jr. and not swell up just a bit with pride — both for him and his singular accomplishments and for the University of Illinois as an institution that provides such a fostering environment for talented people like him.
On the 50th anniversary of Holonyak's invention of the light-emitting diode (LED), the UI this week honored this already much-honored faculty member for his life-changing discovery. True to his unassuming nature, Holonyak down-played the recognition he has received for his work while emphasizing the importance of his research.
"The work stands on its own merits. It's either good or bad or whatever. That's the honor right there," he said.
If that is the case, Holonyak's work has received a standing ovation where it matters most — in the marketplace.
It took longer to make the impact than Holonyak expected, but LEDs now are everywhere there is light — including the screens of laptop computers, digital clocks, Christmas tree lights, medical instruments and spacecraft.
Holonyak said the potential uses are endless and predicts that LEDs one day will replace all other forms of lighting.
Meanwhile, Holonyak is on to bigger and potentially better things, partnering with fellow Professor Milton Feng in work on a high-speed transistor laser.
The creativity that goes into these kinds of creations is unfathomable to the layman. Many millions of people who have never heard of Professor Holonyak, who holds the John Bardeen Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering in Physics, live better lives because of the time he's spent in his preferred habitat — the laboratory.
That is the reward this self-effacing scholar prefers. But, with due deference to his modesty, Holonyak is most deserving of his latest round of applause.