Nick Holonyak, Jr. received a B.S. (1950), M.S. (1951) and Ph.D. (1954) in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois. A Texas Instruments Fellow, he was John Bardeen's first student. As a technical staff member at Bell Telephone Laboratories (1954-55), he helped demonstrate feasibility of diffused-impurity silicon devices, including transistors, oxide-masked transistors, p-n-p-n switches and SCRs. He served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps (1955-57) at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, and at Isogo-ku, Yokohama, Japan. In 1957, he joined the Advanced Semiconductor Laboratory of the General Electric Company (Syracuse) and made contributions in the areas of power and signal p-n-p-n, tunnel diodes, phonon-assisted tunneling halide transport and first epitaxial growth of III-V compounds and compound mixtures, double injection and deep-impurity-level effects, junction luminescence and III-V alloy semiconductor lasers. His work from 1960 to 1962 on GaAsP, the initial construction in 1960 of a p-n junction in this crystal system, and a visible-spectrum laser in 1962 led to the commercial introduction of GaAsP LEDs. He is the inventor of the first practical light-emitting diode, which also marks the beginning in the use of III-V alloys in semiconductor devices.
Since 1963, Holonyak has been a professor at the University of Illinois in the department of electrical and computer engineering and is a member of the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study. He and his students have worked primarily on III-V semiconductors and were the first to make quaternary III-V semiconductor devices (LEDs and lasers). Since 1976, he has been concerned with quantum-well (QW) light emitters and lasers, and with impurity-induced layer disordering. In 1990, he and his students introduced (~ 400°C) stable native oxides on, and buried in, Al-bearing III-V compounds, and demonstrated their use in optoelectronic devices (LEDs and lasers). Holonyak and his students were the first (1977) to construct p-n diode quantum well lasers (InP-InGaAsP, LPE) and were the first to achieve (1978) continuous (cw) room temperature (300 K) laser operation of quantum well heterostructures and superlattices, and later (1982) strained layer quantum well heterostructures. They are the source of the name "quantum-well laser." Most recently (with Dupuis 2001) he introduced tunneling-coupled quantum-well-assisted quantum-dot lasers, and (with Feng 2004) the light-emitting three-port operation of heterojunction bipolar transistors, including QW-base HBTs.
He is co-author of the book Semiconductor Controlled Rectifiers (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964) and Physical Properties of Semiconductors (Prentice-Hall, 1989), editor of the Prentice-Hall series Solid-State Physical Electronics, and has served on the editorial board of the Proceedings of the IEEE (1966-1974), Solid-State Electronics (1970-1991), and Journal of Applied Physics and Applied Physics Letters (1978-1980).
Holonyak has received a number of awards, including the General Electric Cordiner Award (1962), the IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Award (1973), the John Scott Medal (1975, City of Phi ladelphia), the first GaAs Symposium Award with Welker Medal (1976), the IEEE Jack A. Morton Award (1981), the Electrochemical Society Solid-State Science and Technology Award (1983), the Sigma Xi Monie A. Ferst Award (1988), the IEEE Edison Medal (1989), the Charles Hard Townes Award of the Optical Society of America (1992), the National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science (1993), American Electronics Association 50th Anniversary Award (1993, "Inventing America's Future"), American Society for Engineering Education Centennial Medallion (1993), Vladimir Karapetoff Eminent Members' Award of Eta Kappa Nu (1994), TMS John Bardeen Award (1995, The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society), 2000 IEEE Third Millennium Medal, Frederic Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America (2001), the IEEE Medal of Honor (2003), the Washington Award (Western Society Engineers, 2004), and the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004). He is the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Science (1990) and the 2002 U.S. National Medal of Technology. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Northwestern University and was elected an honorary member of the Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute ( St. Petersburg, Russia). In 1994, he received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Notre Dame University, in 1995, the Japan Prize, and in 2003, the Global Energy International Prize (Russia). In 1993, he was appointed to the University of Illinois John Bardeen Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and of Physics, a chair sponsored by the Sony Corporation. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and eminent member of Eta Kappa Nu. Holonyak is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, IEEE (life Fellow, 1994), American Physical Society, Optical Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2003).