The pioneer of LED, Nick Holonyak Jr. is pushing the envelope again. This
time, in the field of optoelectronics, he is attempting to match the speed of
Present Position: The John Bardeen Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degrees: B.S., M.S., Ph.D., electrical engineering, Univ. of Illinois
When you invented the LED, did you have any idea it would become such a commonplace light source? I knew from the beginning, in the fall of 1962, that it would be something big. For years I've said that the semiconductor is the ultimate lamp. Back in the 60s at GE, we were afraid something else might replace it, but nothing can stop it now. Conventional lighting will go away, being replaced by LEDs. Cars are already going that direction, with all their lighting.
What are you working on these days? For the past year, we've been making high speed transistors that are simultaneously light emitters. We should be able to push optoelectronic speeds up to the transistor's speed range. Today's diodes and lasers can't go beyond certain speeds, and transistors are 10 times faster. We think we can make optical signals run at the same speed as those transistors. Right now, we've made 300 GHz transistors, and we are researching 500 GHz transistors.
When could these devices begin moving into industry? This may take a while because it's not an incremental change, it's a fundamental change. But the time scale for useful components for certain jobs could be as soon as a year or two. The parts have both optical and electronic capabilities, so it will take some time for people to learn how to make compromises and see what optical traits they want and what electronic characteristics work best for them.
To read more on Holonyak's current research, visit
. For info on the High Speed Integrated Circuits Group, go to