Who is the Father of the LED?

Nick Holonyak JrThe light emitting diode is one of the best and most underrated inventions of the twentieth century. It’s a light source that’s more efficient and environmentally friendly than almost every other light source in the world. Using LEDs exclusively can significantly cut down the world’s energy consumption, and it’s a crime that the world hasn’t already done so.

Entire industries owe their entire existence to LEDs; companies and websites such as commericalsignage.com.au have sections dedicated to LED services. But, for all those that doubt that people undervalue the LED as much as this article claims, here’s a little test. Can anyone – without Googling it – name the inventor of the LED?

There are three reasons why the name of this inventor isn’t as well known as that of Bell’s, Edison’s, or Tesla’s. The first is that the name is nowhere in LED, it’s reasonably hard to pronounce, and he’s not making (as much) money off his invention.

Nick Holonyak, Jr. is a John Bardeen Endowed Chair Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois, and invented the LED while he was with GE in 1962. He’s also the inventor of the semiconductor laser, and the short emitter p-n-p-n switch. Two of the five most important papers chosen by the American Institute of Physics in the journal “American Physics Letters” were co-written by Holonyak in 1962 and 2005, respectively.

There are fewer than a handful of engineers who can challenge Holonyak’s contribution to science, specifically in the light and laser departments. He is the reason you can binge watch Blu-Ray versions of your favourites repeatedly, without having to worry about wear. Sure, everything these days is digital and very few people still own CDs, but there’s no way anyone was getting anywhere near digital without Holonyak’s work.

This is exactly why the Swiss need to get their heads in the game, and give this man a Nobel already. The man already has awards from George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, and Emperor Akihito of Japan, why not the one that matters the most?

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