The Global Energy Prize laureate 2003

Nick Holonyak’s light emitting diode is a perfect example of how talent and curiosity of a single man can change the entire world


When switching on a coffee machine in the morning, checking mail in the phone, pushing the button for the elevator or staring at advertisement signs in the street – we see this great invention everywhere and use in our everyday life. The light we see is so familiar to us that most people do not even stop for a second to think: what is it glowing there? Light emitting diodes, or LED are a perfect example of how talent and curiosity of a single person can change the entire world. Only fifty five years ago, in the hands of Professor Nick Holonyak, the brand new light source first flashed. Dr. Holonyak is often called “the man who converted science into light”. He is the inventor of LED and holder of more than thirty patents. Among them are semiconductor red-light laser usually called laser diode (used in CD and DVD players and cell phones),quantum semiconductor laser (used in fiber optics) and shorted emitter p-n-p-n switch (light dimmers and power tools). On October 9, 1962, Dr. Holonyak became the first man to develop a visible semiconductor laser: a device smaller than a coin became the first visible LED. It was an incredible discovery and colleague instantly gave it the name of “the magic one”. One of them wrote it on a container lid for pills, in which Nick Holonyak still keeps the very first diode. When “the magic one” first illuminated, Dr. Holonyak understood that the was onto something big he could be proud of: “I know that I’m just at the front end but I know the result is so powerful… there’s no ambiguity about the fact that this has got a life way beyond what we’re seeing”. Dr. Holonyak’s forecast came true: today LEDs light our houses and cars, look at us from computer monitors and TV screens. They are used in microsurgery. A small lamp converted into entire LED systems applied for street lighting and giant screen at stadiums and squares.

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