Photo of Nick Holonyak Jr.

Nick Holonyak Jr.

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering
For his contributions as one of the Nation’s most prolific inventors in the area of semiconductor materials and devices, and for his role as research mentor while working at the forefront of solid-state science and technology.

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