Engineering News

MNTL to be named for Nick Holonyak, Jr.

5/7/2019 Mike Koon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Few alumni in the 150-plus years of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have had as big an impact on the world as Nick Holonyak, Jr. The first graduate student of two-time Nobel Laureate John Bardeen, Holonyak invented the world’s first practical light-emitting diode (LED), and he and his students demonstrated the first quantum well laser, which enabled modern fiber optics communication. Now the legacy of Holonyak will be permanently recognized on campus as the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory (MNTL) will be renamed the Nick Holonyak, Jr. Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory pending Board of Trustees approval.
 
A three-time Illinois alumnus (BSEE 1950, MSEE 1951, PhD 1954), Holonyak’s GaAsP red alloy LED paved the way for today’s solid-state lighting revolution that is replacing Edison’s incandescent bulb and other less efficient light sources.
 
After productive stints with Bell Labs and GE and service in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Japan, Holonyak joined the Illinois faculty in 1963, establishing a research program in the Electrical Engineering Research Lab.
 
During the next four decades, he and his students produced major technology advances such as the world’s first quantum-well laser, the impurity-induced layer disordering technique for high-power lasers, and the stable native oxide for vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). 
 
Those advances led to brighter and more efficient LEDs and lasers and are used for fiber-optic communications, CD and DVD players, optical storage, medical diagnosis, surgery, ophthalmology, and other applications.
 
ECE Emeritus professor Nick Holonyak is credited with inventing the world's first practical light-emitting diode (LED)
ECE Emeritus professor Nick Holonyak is credited with inventing the world's first practical light-emitting diode (LED)
In 2004, he, fellow Electrical & Computer Engineering Professor Milton Feng, post-doctoral researcher Gabriel Walter, and graduate student Richard Chan invented the transistor laser, a three-terminal device that simultaneously delivers both an electrical signal and a coherent laser output. The transistor laser, which incorporates quantum wells into the base region of a high-speed heterojunction bipolar transistor, may lead to higher speed electronic-photonic integrated circuits for much faster computers and electronics.
 
Although he retired in 2013, Holonyak continues to collaborate and consult with Feng on transistor laser research. Holonyak is both a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He and his former students, Russ Dupuis and George Craford, received the 2015 Charles Stark Draper Prize (aka the Nobel Prize for engineering) and the 2002 National Medal of Technology for their invention, development, and commercialization of LED technology. 
 
“Nick Holonyak is synonymous with the LED, but his legacy doesn’t end with its development,” noted Rashid Bashir, Dean of the College of Engineering. “It lives on through a number of his students, who also have made significant discoveries, including further monumental LED breakthroughs. He continues to have an impact on our students and faculty 50 years after he joined our faculty. His semiconductor innovation is the precursor to work being conducted at MNTL, so it is fitting that his name adorns the facility.”
 
Opened in 1989, the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory was widely known for its excellence in III-V compound semiconductor device and processing research. Over the years, the mission of the facility located at 208 North Wright Street in Urbana, has broadened to include advances that intersect engineering and other fields. Its faculty and students are conducting research that advances a broad range of applications, including high-speed data communications, high-efficiency lighting, solar power, flexible electronics, biosensors for drug discovery, biomedical imaging, disease diagnostics, vaccine delivery strategies, environmental monitoring, and novel microelectronics/photonics concepts for next-generation computing architectures.
 
“MNTL was built on the semiconductor legacy left by engineering giants like Nick Holonyak,” the laboratory’s director Brian Cunningham said. “In the same spirit, we are producing innovations – in photonics, microelectronics, biotechnology and nanotechnology – that we anticipate will have similar positive impact to future generations. We are honored to have his name associated with that work.”