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UIUC Alumn and Professor Nick Holonyak Jr. dies at 93

By Nathalie Murillo

Holonyak holding a small LED lightblub. Courtesy of Chris New.

One of the greatest inventors of the 20th century, Nick Holonyak Jr., died at 93 in Urbana. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign mourns the loss of their beloved alum and professor Sunday morning.

Standing alongside Thomas Edison, the small town professor was widely known for his invention of the first visible-spectrum LED light in 1962. From computer displays to lightbulbs, his fingerprint is seen worldwide through various electronic and communication devices.

Holonyak’s past was not as bright as future as he labored alongside his family on the dark, dangerous undergrounds of the Illinois Central Railroad. Born from immigrant coal miners, he understands the struggles of being a first-generation college student. Holonyak went on to receive his bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees at UIUC before devoting 40 years of his life mentoring and teaching optoelectronics at the university.

For pioneering research in semiconductor material and LED technology, Holonyak received various awards to honor his historic contributions such as the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1990. Two former presidents, George W. H. Bush and George W. Bush, recognized his achievements with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1990 and 2002 respectively.

Among his most recent discoveries, Holonyak developed a sustainable alternative for computers to transmit information through the use of light rather than electricity. The Ziegler-native proudly considered Illinois his home until his last moment:

“Illinois is where people come to get hard work done.”

Holonyak’s wife of 60 years, Katherine, along with Grainger College of Engineering and the University will feel the loss of their beloved husband and professor who remained down-to-earth with extraordinary humility and a beaming passion to teach others over a cup of coffee. Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center lit up red last night to commemorate the legendary inventor.

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