The man who powered on the first LED half a century ago is still around to talk about it; read on to watch an interview with LED inventor Nick Holonyak.
The most fascinating thing about Holonyak’s journey to the invention of the LED was that he started off trying to build a laser and ended up inventing a super efficient light source:
Holonyak got his PhD in 1954. In 1957, after a year at Bell Labs and a two year stint in the Army, he joined GE’s research lab in Syracuse, New York. GE was already exploring semiconductor applications and building the forerunners of modern diodes called thyristors and rectifiers. At a GE lab in Schenectady, the scientist Robert Hall was trying to build the first diode laser. Hall, Holonyak and others noticed that semiconductors emit radiation, including visible light, when electricity flows through them. Holonyak and Hall were trying to “turn them on,” and channel, focus and multiply the light.
Hall was the first to succeed. He built the world’s first semiconductor laser. Without it, there would be no CD and DVD players today. “Nobody knew how to turn the semiconductor into the laser,” Holonyak says. “We arrived at the answer before anyone else.”
But Hall’s laser emitted only invisible, infrared light. Holonyak spent more time in his lab, testing, cutting and polishing his hand-made semiconducting alloys. In the fall of 1962, he got first light. “People thought that alloys were rough and turgid and lumpy,” he says. “We knew damn well what happened and that we had a very powerful way of converting electrical current directly into light. We had the ultimate lamp.”
Hit up the link below for more information about the first LEDs and Holonyak.
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 10/10/12