Photo of Nick Holonyak Jr.

Nick Holonyak Jr.

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Electronics
For contributions to the development and commercialization of light-emitting diode (LED) technology, with applications to digital displays, consumer electronics, automotive lighting, traffic signals, and general illumination.

Nick Holonyak on the history of the LED

Research and innovation can be a hard road, but engineer Nick Holonyak saw a light at the end of the tunnel. A light-emitting diode, to be exact. Holonyak built the first LED bulb in 1962 while working as a researcher for General Electric Company.

LED bulbs have been used for over a decade in electronic billboards, traffic lights and in automobiles and they’ve steadily been used to replace incandescent light bulbs, which have been used for more than a century.

Incandescent light bulbs lose up to 90 percent of their electricity as heat, converting only about 10 percent into light. Compared to traditional bulbs, LEDs draw less electricity and last years longer.

Despite having his name “up in lights,” Holonyak remains humble.

In the 2012 issue of “Resonance,” an alumni magazine for University of Illinois, Holonyak said, “I feel privileged to have contributed a piece at the start of all this, to an ultimate lamp, and to have had a core of talented students following me and leading the field in making high-brightness LEDs.”

By Rachel Warren