Greentech Lead America: As LED celebrates its 50th
anniversary today, LED inventor Dr. Nick Holonyak, Jr., who was then a GE
scientist, recollected how the magic light “has got a life way beyond what
Holonyak, in an interview to GE in September, remembers
feeling that he was onto something big when “the magic one” first illuminated.
Holonyak has called the LED the “ultimate lamp” because “the current itself is
the light.” As a result, an LED can have lower losses and higher efficiencies
than other lighting technologies.
When Holonyak joined GE’s team of researchers in 1957, GE
scientists and engineers were already researching semiconductor applications
and building the forerunners of modern diodes called thyristors and rectifiers.
While GE scientist Dr. Robert N. Hall was working toward
realizing a semiconductor laser in the infrared with GaAs (Gallium arsenide),
Holonyak aimed for the visible with GaAsP (Gallium arsenide phosphide). Hall
used polishing to form laser mirrors, while Holonyak tried to form the mirrors
Holonyak, who is now 83 years old, recounts the
competitive forces that propelled him toward his moment of discovery in a GE
lab: “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them
because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red –visible. And I’m going to be
able to see what’s going on. And they’re stuck in the infrared.”
On October 9, 1962, with GE colleagues looking on,
Holonyak became the first person to operate a visible semiconductor alloy
laser– the device that illuminated the first visible LED.
Fifty years on, Holonyak’s invention, the
energy-efficient LEDs, have been incorporated to serve as light sources in
countless applications ranging from the mundane to mission critical. They
provide lighting in a variety of electronic devices and indicators, including
elevator buttons, exit signs, cell and smart phone displays, and more. Now they
are hitting mainstream lighting applications like parking lots, roadways,
accent lighting, general lighting and more.
“Nick Holonyak is a national treasure,” says Mary Beth
Gotti, manager of the GE Lighting Institute in East Cleveland, Ohio. “His
curiosity and drive to explore and invent have inspired thousands of students
and countless innovations. It’s breathtaking to consider the widespread and
profound impact of ‘the magic one’ that Nick Holonyak brought to life 50 years