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  • Semiconductor Pioneer Receives IEEE Award
Jun 2003
PISCATAWAY, N.J., June 24 -- Nick Holonyak Jr., a professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, received The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 2003 Medal of Honor for his contributions to semiconductors and to visible light-emitting diodes and injection lasers. The award was presented at the annual IEEE honors ceremony last week in Nashville, Tenn.
Holonyak was the first graduate student of two-time Nobel laureate John Bardeen, a University of Illinois professor who invented the transistor. An early researcher in semiconductor electronics, Holonyak gained eminence through his numerous inventions and contributions to advances in semiconductor materials and devices.

Before joining the Illinois faculty in 1963, Holonyak worked for Bell Telephone Labs, where he helped develop silicon-diffused transistor technology. He also developed the first electronic devices in III-V compound semiconductor alloys (III and V referring to places in the periodic table of the elements), and is the inventor of the basic silicon device used in household light-dimmer switches.

Several years later, while at General Electric, he invented the first practical light-emitting diode and the first semiconductor laser to operate in the visible spectrum. Car taillights, stop lights, and the lighting industry at large are the direct beneficiaries of his invention, the LED. So are digital watches and calculators and the giant video displays at sports stadiums. Approximately 60 billion LEDs were sold in 2001 -- 12 for every person on the planet. Today, LEDs are a $2 billion a year industry.

At Illinois, Holonyak and his students demonstrated the first quantum-well laser, creating a practical laser for fiber optic communications, compact disc players, medical diagnosis, surgery, ophthalmology and many other applications.

In the early 1980s, his group introduced impurity-induced layer disordering, which converts layers of a semiconductor structure into an alloy that has important electronic properties. In one use, this discovery solved the problem of a laser's low reliability. Such lasers exhibit enhanced performance and durability, making them ideal for DVD players and other optical storage equipment.

During the last decade, Holonyak and his students invented a process that enables the formation of high-quality oxide layers on any aluminum-bearing III-V compound semiconductor. The oxide process has had a major impact on vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers, making them practical for such applications as optical and data communications. His more recent research focuses on coupling quantum-dot lasers to quantum-well lasers.

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