URBANA — A University of Illinois inventor will join Thomas Edison, Enrico Fermi and the Wright Brothers in a very exclusive club.
Nick Holonyak Jr., who invented the LED, will join the scientists and inventors inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame on Nov. 3.
Besides the first practical light-emitting diode, Holonyak has worked extensively with semiconductors.
He will be inducted at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, along with Nikola Tesla (alternating-current inventions led to commercial electricity; he died in 1943) and James Tsui (developer of digital receiver and GPS technology; he received his Ph.D. from the UI).
The 2011 inductees join more than 50 great names in the history of science, including Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Linus Pauling and UI alumna Rosalyn S. Yalow.
Holonyak, the John Bardeen professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at the UI, is a pioneer in the field of optoelectronics — devices that convert electricity into light or vice-versa. His work has resulted in more than 500 academic papers and 51 patents.
LEDs, semiconductor crystal devices that emit light when electrified, now are commonly used on items ranging from instrument panels to bicycle tail lights. In a different form, LEDs can function as lasers. His innovation also has contributed to technology in household dimmer switches, lasers that run CD and DVD players and fiber-optic communication.
Most recently, Holonyak has worked with UI electrical and computer engineering Professor Milton Feng to demonstrate the operation of a transistor laser that combines the functionality of both a transistor and a laser by converting electrical input signals into two output signals, one electrical and one optical. Transistor lasers could dramatically improve the speed and availability of electronic communications and computers.
Holonyak, Bardeen's first student, earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the UI.
He then worked for Bell Labs, the U.S. Army Signal Corps and General Electric before joining the faculty at Illinois in 1963.
Among his numerous awards are the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004), the Global Energy Prize from Russia (2003), the U.S. National Medal of Technology (2002), the Japan Prize (1995), the National Academy of Sciences' Award for the Industrial Application of Science (1993), and the U.S. National Medal of Science (1990).
He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame; as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America.
He is a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.