93-year-old U of I Professor receives Queen Elizabeth Prize for creation of LED lighting

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A 93-year-old Professor was recently awarded the 2021 Queen Elizabeth Prize (QEPrize) for Engineering for the creation and development of LED lighting.

Nick Holonyak, Jr. is the John Bardeen Endowed Chair Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

According to officials, Professor Holonyak was born on Nov. 3, 1928, in Zeigler, Illinois. He was the son of an immigrant coal miner and was the first in his family to pursue higher education. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Illinois, where he was the first graduate student of two-time Nobel laureate John Bardeen. He worked for Bell Labs, the U.S. Army Signal Corps and General Electric Co. before joining the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1963.

The 2021 QEPrize laureates include Professor Holonyak, his former students and Illinois ECE alumni M. George Craford and Russel Dupuis, and blue LED pioneers Isamu Akasaki and Shuji Nakamura.

“It’s one of those golden moments,” said Professor Holonyak. “Because this is the equivalent of the biggest prize that is given, including the Nobel Prize.”

Officials said the award was given in recognition of the engineers’ contribution to the groundbreaking technology of the light-emitting diode, which has made a global impact on reducing energy consumption and addressing climate change.

“It is really something to share in this award win among my friends and colleagues – all five of us each played an important role, and this recognition means an awful lot. In those early days, when it was long days and nights hand-building reactors, Nick Holonyak mentored us. He really drew us in and inspired us to be part of the adventure that is engineering,” said Dupuis.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales congratulated each winner and presented them with a gold trophy during the award ceremony on December 8.

Craford stated, “This is a really special moment for me. The QEPrize is so prestigious and it is spectacular to receive recognition from The Royal Family. It is a career highlight that is impossible to beat. Engineering is incredible, and I am proud to be a part of something that has made such a big impact on the world.”

LED lighting is 75% more energy efficient than traditional incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs. Solid state lighting – in which high-performance LEDs are used – has changed how the world is illuminated. It can be found everywhere from digital displays and computer screens to handheld laser pointers, car headlights and traffic lights.

“This year’s Prize winners have not only helped humanity to achieve a greater degree of mastery over the environment, they have enabled us to do so in a sustainable way. They have created a product which we now take for granted, but which will play a major role in ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature for many more centuries to come,” said Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation.

QEPrize celebrates engineering’s visionaries, encouraging engineers to help extend the boundaries of what is possible across all disciplines and applications. It also inspires young minds to consider engineering as a career choice and to help solve the challenges of the future.

Professor Holonyak was unable to travel to the award ceremony. Professor Akasaki passed away in April but was represented at the ceremony by his son-in-law, Dr. Kazuaki Takahashi.

Prince Charles, Shuji Nakamura, Russel Dupuis, Dr. Kazuaki Takahashi, M. George Craford, Lord Browne, Dame Lynn Gladden (Photo Credit: QEPrize)

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