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Press Release

LED Inventor Nick Holonyak Reflects on Discovery 50 Years Later

October 09, 2012

Dubai, UAE; October 10, 2012: Fifty years ago, 33-year-old GE scientist Dr. Nick Holonyak, Jr., invented the first practical visible-spectrum light-emitting diode (LED), a device that GE colleagues at the time called "the magic one" because its light, unlike infrared lasers, was visible to the human eye.

In an interview with GE Lighting conducted in his University of Illinois lab on September 19, 2012---about three weeks ahead of the50th anniversary of his invention of the LED---a now 83-year-old Holonyak 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."

LED 50th Anniversary: Holonyak's path to discovery

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 by cleaving. 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 removed from Holonyak's invention, new, robust and long-lasting LEDs have been incorporated to serve as light sources in countless applications ranging from the mundane to mission critical.

"LEDs are literally everywhere," notes Mary Beth Gotti, manager of the GE Lighting Institute, a teaching facility at GE Lighting's 100-year-old Nela Park world headquarters in East Cleveland, Ohio. "LEDs provide lighting in a variety of electronic devices and indicators including elevator buttons, exit signs, cell and smart phone displays, TVs, PCs, tablet computers, commercial signage, full motion video screens in sports venues, microscopic surgical equipment, railroad crossings and airport taxiway lights. And they are now hitting mainstream lighting applications like parking lots, roadways, accent lighting, general lighting and more."

Businesses such as Starbucks, Walmart, Target and Marriott believe in the power of Holonyak's invention. They understand that LED systems deliver value not just through energy-cost savings. Maintenance-cost savings are significant because LEDs last longer than any other light source. The LED value proposition isn't reserved for retail giants operating thousands of locations. One of the fastest growing applications of LED systems is roadway and area lighting. GE Lighting recently illuminated the Moulay El Hassan Bridge in Rabat, Morocco, with its Iberia LED, a versatile luminaire that combines design excellence with energy savings and extraordinary luminous quality.

Holonyak, in the GE interview, remembers feeling that he was onto something big when "the magic one" first illuminated: "I know that I'm just at the front end but I know the result is so powerful...there's no ambiguity about the fact that this has got a life way beyond what we're seeing."

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.

How LEDs work

LEDs are small light sources or thin chips that become illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material. Today, LEDs are available in multiple colors, including the bright, white light consumers are used to seeing from their home lighting. LEDs are embraced for their energy savings and long life. They use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent sources, last up to 25 times longer than incandescent and halogen light sources and up to three times longer than most CFLs. They also are cooler to the touch, start instantly, and the compact shape of LEDs allows for smaller, design-forward lighting fixtures, as well as illumination in tight areas.

"Nick Holonyak is a national treasure," notes Gotti. "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 ago."

Most recently, GE Lighting demonstrated the efficiency of its lighting solutions with its state-of-the-art and energy efficient lighting system on the landmark Tower Bridge in UK as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. GE lights also took centrestage during the 2012 Games with the Tower Bridge fitted with its giant Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos for the 45 days of the Games. The Tower Bridge lighting will stay permanent and have reduced energy consumption by up to 40 per cent compared with the previous lighting system.

GE Lighting has a rich history in the Middle East having established long-standing business association with over 70 key partners over the past several decades. The company established its full-fledged team in the region 15 years ago, and today has several professionals driving the operations.

Kelly Home
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller
[email protected]
+971 4 4507 600

Nivine William
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller
[email protected]
+971 4 4507 600

Caroline Wehbeh
GE Communications Leader, North Africa
[email protected]
+971 4 429 6318


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