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Science Technology

No Nobel For Nick Holonyak Jr, Father of the LED 276

szotz writes Nick Holonyak Jr. doesn't want to go gently into that good night. Widely regarded as the father of the LED (for his work on early visible-light devices), he's been making strongly-worded comments about being passed over for the Nobel Prize. His wife said he'd given up on getting it. But, he says, this year's physics award, to inventors of the blue LED, was just plain 'insulting'. The history the LED goes beyond and back further than Holonyak (all the way to the beginning of the 20th century), but a number of his colleagues are disappointed and/or surprised by the snub.
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No Nobel For Nick Holonyak Jr, Father of the LED

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  • by Calibax ( 151875 ) * on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:34AM (#48103095)

    It really is insulting to give a Nobel prize for an improvement to a revolutionary idea, and ignore the person who did the original work. Without Holonyak's original work there would be no basis for the improvement.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It really is insulting to give a Nobel prize for an improvement to a revolutionary idea, and ignore the person who did the original work. Without Holonyak's original work there would be no basis for the improvement.

      And where does the buck stop in this argument? Or should Nobels drift endlessly backwards to Newton, Leibniz, Aristotle, Plato ... Thales of Miletus. Thales of Miletus? All Nobels go to him?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:41AM (#48103169)

      That award has pretty much 0 to do with real achievement. It is a political power play. Up until Obama got the peace prize I though otherwise. How can you get the prize for having not DONE anything... At least at this point they could point at something and give him one...

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:50AM (#48103261) Homepage

        The peace prize is different in that it is, by definition, political. Do not judge the other prizes by how the peace prize is awarded.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The Nobel prize in literature is fairly political, too. It was awarded to Winston Churchill, for example, and the award to William Golding was perhaps a deliberate snub to Graham Greene.

          • Comparing Churchill to Obama is a hilarious leap in logic, though. Churchill was one of the greatest speakers of our time. As a speechwriter, he's completely respectable.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Also, the committee which decides is *completely* different. The Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry are awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the one for Physiology or Medicine by the Karolinska Institutet, but the Peace prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

          So it's not only a different group of people who do the peace prize, they're from a completely different *country*.

          How anyone can seriously propose that the decisions about th

      • Up until Obama got the peace prize I though otherwise.

        Because you believe there was nothing wrong with Henry Kissinger getting one 30 years prior?

      • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:33PM (#48103763) Homepage Journal

        According to the reward committee, Obama's achievement was not being Bush.

        Although in retrospect, they probably should have waited a bit to make that determination.

    • by Alomex ( 148003 )

      Sure, but what if a red LED is a natural evolution while blue LED, once thought impossible is the true revolutionary idea?

      • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:08PM (#48103489) Journal

        Sure, but what if a red LED is a natural evolution while blue LED, once thought impossible is the true revolutionary idea?

        Apparently it still doesn't matter. A few years ago they awarded the prize to Kobayashi and Maskawa for the 3x3 quark mixing matrix and yet ignored Cabibbo who did the groundbreaking work to show that quarks mixed for the first time. The extension to 3 generations was a direct extension of that work and the matrix is even called the 'CKM' matrix after all three of them...but no Nobel for Cabibbo.

        While questionable decisions are always part of any award process the Nobel prize is running into some real issues with modern physics. For a start it is almost impossible to award a prize for any recent experimental particle physics result (the recent Higgs prize was for the theory, not the experimental discovery) simply because we work in large groups and you generally can not point to three, or fewer, people and say that they did it. The only exception I can think of to this would be the SNO solar neutrino result.

        However it is not just particle physics: 'Big Science' is spreading to other areas as well with the addition of accelerator-based light sources for some condensed matter physics, large scale plasma and fusion experiments etc. The part of the experimental field to which a Nobel prize can be awarded in physics is continuously shrinking making the prize less and less relevant...although it still has a long way to go before it gets knocked off its perch!

        • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:53PM (#48103999)

          Nobel prize for the LHC. Every participant gets $3.50, a tuxedo t-shirt, a certificate suitable for framing (but no frame) and coupons to see the Norwegian national orchestra, half price.

        • We all stand on the shoulders of Giants.

          We shouldn't be looking backwards to the basis of every invention because that's pretty much an infinite chain backwards. The should be awarding the prize for revolutionary work that dramatically advances a discipline. The Blue LED was revolutionary. Without it we wouldn't have LED lighting or even White LED's. It also wasn't easy to find the right makeup to generate blue. Lots of people were working on this for several decades and these are the guys that succeeded. I

          • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @01:46PM (#48104537) Homepage

            Again, I'm no expert but I understand that pushing existing infrared LEDs into the visible part of the spectrum as done by Nick Holonyak was considered evolutionary engineering, whereas people thought (incorrectly as we know now) that there were theoretical limits forbidding blue LEDs. This is why their work is considered revolutionary and Nobel-prize worthy.

          • The Blue LED was revolutionary. Without it we wouldn't have LED lighting or even White LED's.

            Look, the Nobel physics prize is not supposed to be given on the basis of "social impact" of the discovery.

            • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @02:49PM (#48105187)

              Actually, according to the rules of the Prize, as laid down in the will and testament, yes, it is supposed to. Nobel did NOT want to award only "pure" theoretical science, he wanted to award those scientists and engineers who actively helped mankind. The language of the will and testament is VERY clear and specific, and a common goal for all the Prize is for the practical betterment of mankind and society.

        • by radtea ( 464814 )

          A few years ago they awarded the prize to Kobayashi and Maskawa for the 3x3 quark mixing matrix and yet ignored Cabibbo who did the groundbreaking work to show that quarks mixed for the first time.

          Another comparable case is the awarding of the 1998 prize to Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger for the discovery of the muon neutrino when Reines had not been award the prize for the discovery of the electron neutrino. In that case, thankfully, Reines was finally given the prize in 1995.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:42PM (#48103881) Homepage

        Sure, but what if a red LED is a natural evolution while blue LED, once thought impossible is the true revolutionary idea?

        Well, maybe they looked at impact. For decades, LEDs were only used for status lights, power lights, and some other things. Switching from mini-incandecent bulbs for these purposes didn't really change much in the grand view of things. Switching out household lighting from incandecent to blue/white LED saves thousands of megawatts of electricity, and enables many impoverished people to have electric light for the first time ever. I went to North Korea this year and even in very remote areas with clearly impoverished people, solar panels, batteries, and LED lighting were very common. Bringing light to the people like that would be a lot more difficult without LED lighting.

        And if you think that inexpensive, efficient lighting is not a big deal, try living without it for a week. The availability of inexpensive lighting has become so embedded in Western society that we can't imagine life without it. Think about what that means to the billions of poor people all over the world who are getting, or have gotten it, for the first time.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      You know that it is hard to not to reference other Nobel awards that are questionable.

    • ... The sad part is that people still think the Nobel prizes are meaningful.

      Let me preface what I say with: I don't know the physics involved, I'm just putting out thoughts for the sake of discussion. I think the inventor of the LED deserves respect just due to the way it has become embedded in everything we do even if it were a trivial thing to create. Maybe not a Nobel prize, but something appropriate to 'changing the way we view the world' which is what has happened here, with the help of many people.

      H

      • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:30PM (#48103731)

        The red visible light LED was just a small progression from the infrared LED. The blue LED required MASSIVE fundamental physics research to even lay the foundation for it being possible.

        You can read the scientific background on the Nobel Prize website.

        Someone on StackExchange also summed it up like this:
        "The invention of MOCVD technology for growing crystals (early 1970s);
        Finding the right recipe to grow good GaN by MOCVD (i.e., use a sapphire substrate, start with a low temperature step then switch to high temperature, etc.) (mid-1980s);
        Finding the right recipe to grow p-type GaN (what dopant to use (Mg), in what concentration, and what annealing / treating recipe to use to make the Mg dopants actually work and reduce the number of unintended n-type dopants that were canceling it out) (early 1990s);
        Once all that was in place, find good structures to make LEDs (e.g. if you can also grow InGaN then you can make quantum wells) (early-to-mid 1990s)."

        • Isn't "finding the right recipe" fundamentally an engineering breakthrough rather than a theoretical scientific one?

        • by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @02:45PM (#48105143)

          The blue LED may have been harder than the red LED for the reasons that you give, but Holonyak did make some key accomplishments including the demonstration of a ternary alloy semiconductor and tuning the bandgap and thus color by varying alloy composition which has paved the way for achieving all of the different colors for LEDs in use today and is also used for the InGaN emission layer in the blue LEDs.

          An alloy semiconductor instead of having, for example, one group III and one group V element in perfect 50% ratio in a uniform crystal structure mixes it up and uses two or more group III elements and two or more group V elements. In the case of Holonyak he used two group V elements: Arsenic and Phosphorous. At the time at least some people did not think that an alloy semiconductor would even work, and it is a little weird because the crystal structure is now non-uniform where a given group V crystal site contains one element or the other at random. In fact this randomness does slow down the electrons. Holonyak also showed that the bandgap could be tuned by varying the relative concentrations of the group V elements. You can read more about him in a nice IEEE profile [ieee.org].

          I don't know enough about the history to say who should have gotten the Nobel, but certainly no matter who they selected somebody would have been snubbed.

      • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:55PM (#48104023)

        Ah, but can you define "inventor of the LED"? H. J. Round for getting luminescence from silicon carbide in 1907? Oleg Losev for his demonstration in 1927? Rubin Braunstein who found infrared emission from gallium arsenide in 1955? Baird and Pittman for patenting an (infrared) "Semiconductor Radiant Diode" which was efficient in 1962? Holonyak for reporting the first visible red LED in 1962? Any recognition for M. George Craford for the first yellow LED and for bettering the efficiency by an order of magnitude in 1972? And for T. P. Pearsall for the first high brightness LEDs suitable for driving fiber optics in 1976? And whoever invented the first green LED? And of course the inventors of the blue LED?

        I think Holonyak for first visible LED is certainly deserving, but the whole chain of discoveries and inventions was crucial to the LCD monitors and flatscreen TVs we enjoy today.

        The same goes for the transistor. Lilienfeld filed for a patent on the FET in 1925, yet we all thought Bardeen, Shockley and Brattain were first in 1948. As it turned out, their bipolar transistor tech turned out in the long run to be completely eclipsed by the (MOS)FET.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:21PM (#48103625)

      Well, Holonyak just made a red version of existing IR LEDs, so giving him the prize would be doing the same thing to the IR LED inventors.

    • by silfen ( 3720385 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:52PM (#48103987)

      Holonyak didn't invent the LED, he created the first visible light LED. As such, his contribution is of the same kind as the inventors of the blue LED: he changed the emission frequency of an existing device.

      Going from infrared to yellow was also a much simpler step than going from yellow to blue; the latter required different and more complex physics. Since the price is for contributions to physics, I think it makes sense that they honored this. From a practical standpoint, before blue LEDs, LEDs were just instrument lights; afterwards, they became a usable light source and display technology, so that was really the critical step.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

    • He's better off without it. The Nobel Prize is a circle-jerk for patsy good-old-boys's club jackasses, not a serious scientific recognition. It's the club for people who have friends high up in the club.
    • by nashv ( 1479253 )

      The Nobel prize is not given for scientific achievement or for being the first to do anything. It is given for accomplishments that influence the world and society in a substantial way (in the opinion of the Nobel committee).

      The message being sent here is that LEDs were cool, but there was no significant impact of LEDs on the world until the blue LED came along, allowed production of white light and thereby the use of LEDs in lighting - substantially increasing the per capita energy efficiency in the entire

  • Maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by perryizgr8 ( 1370173 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:43AM (#48103199)

    I don't know enough about the specific circumstances in which both these people invented their respective devices, but I think there can be a scenario where the inventor of the base invention does not get the prize but the inventor of an improvement does. For example, maybe when Holonyak invented the LED, various technologies had reached a point where anybody in his position would inevitably make an LED. But, maybe the inventors of the blue LED did a huge amount of original research and invented a device well ahead of its time. Of course all this might be bullshit and Holonyak might be right.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:52AM (#48103287)
      It is true, attribution of credit is ridiculously subjective if not arbitrary at all levels, from authorship of papers, to how much money each person makes under any given economic system. There is no real solution to this, although some systems are better than others.
    • by halivar ( 535827 )

      FWIW, he didn't invent the LED. He invented the red-visible LED. Scientists at Texas Instruments invented the infrared LED first.

      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        H. J. Round demonstrated visible (green) luminescence from a point contact on a silicon carbide crystal in 1907. That was quite a while before TI was founded, and before Holonyak's breakthrough.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:05PM (#48103437)

      You are almost correct. If you read the scientific background for the decision, you'll see that the blue LED was a real breakthrough, requiring a lot of fundamental physics research, while Holonyak's own papers show that he was more involved in further evolution of existing LEDs. Holonyak didn't actually invent the original LEDs, and those who did are dead, and the Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously.

      As someone on StackExchange summed it up too:

      "The invention of MOCVD technology for growing crystals (early 1970s);
      Finding the right recipe to grow good GaN by MOCVD (i.e., use a sapphire substrate, start with a low temperature step then switch to high temperature, etc.) (mid-1980s);
      Finding the right recipe to grow p-type GaN (what dopant to use (Mg), in what concentration, and what annealing / treating recipe to use to make the Mg dopants actually work and reduce the number of unintended n-type dopants that were canceling it out) (early 1990s);
      Once all that was in place, find good structures to make LEDs (e.g. if you can also grow InGaN then you can make quantum wells) (early-to-mid 1990s)."

      The Blue LED inventors were awarded the prize because they managed to put together a lot of pieces of highly original research, and doing something that was in fact considered impossible for quite a while by many LED researchers.

    • People keep overlooking the fact that the development of high brightness GaN blue LEDs resulted in the technology becoming a practical replacement for white incandescent bulbs and enabled LED backlighting in billions of display panels. Coat a clear blue LED with yellow phosphor and, voila, a bright white light source that burns a fraction of the energy.

      So, yeah, the red LED was a tremendously useful device, but it pales in comparison to the dramatic shift that is underway thanks to the development of afford

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 09, 2014 @11:53AM (#48103295)

    The Nobel peace prize winner of 2009 [wikipedia.org] just bombed his 7th Muslim country [zerohedge.com].

    • Re:That's nothing! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:05PM (#48103435) Homepage

      Not to mention they gave the same prize to Arafat, but not to Gandhi.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not to mention they gave the same prize to Arafat, but not to Gandhi.

        Well Kissinger got the nobel peace price. What a joke, the greatest mass murder in modern history right after Stalin.
        Kissinger should be rotting in a prison alongside his prize.

    • Huh? After Kissinger got it I thought this was some sort of 1984 prize. You know, "ministry of peace" and that.

    • The peace prize is a popularity contest, nothing more. Get over it. They've given the peace prize to people that were at one time terrorists that killed innocent civilians. That should be all the evidence you need that it's about popularity, not about bringing peace.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      That's simply to prove that he is not, in fact, a Muslim. However, given the propensity for Muslims to bomb each other, I think it may prove the opposite. :P
    • Don't forget that time the gave it to Al Gore for doing a really awesome job on his Powerpoint slides.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:13PM (#48103543) Journal

    It's not that I think you necessarily have to give the prize to the inventor of the "base" idea all the time, as opposed to someone who made it truly useful and beneficial for the masses. But as this article even states, the infrared LED was developed first. Holonyak simply made the first VISIBLE light LED. The infrared LED is a pretty cool invention in and of itself, but the ability to produce visible light with one is what really made people start using them in place of traditional incandescent bulbs.

    In my mind, that's the primarily impact the LED has had on people, and therefore is most deserving of the Nobel.

    The blue LED? That's a pretty cool innovation, but I don't see how you can award a prize like this for it when you ignored the research that made LEDs possible as visible light sources?

    • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

      Holonyaks research was just an immediate continuation of the infrared LED research. The blue LED otoh required a lot of fundamental materials research etc before the foundation to start actually trying to build them was in place...

  • WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH - I hear the whambulance coming. Do you want some cheese with that wine?
  • Waaaaaaahhhhhh (Score:5, Informative)

    by gatfirls ( 1315141 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:19PM (#48103597)

    National Academy of Engineering (1973)
    National Academy of Sciences,
    IEEE Edison Medal (1989)
    National Medal of Science (1990)
    National Medal of Technology (2002)
    IEEE Medal of Honor (2003)
    Lemelson-MIT Prize (2004)
    National Inventors Hall of Fame (2008)

    No one cares about my contributions! :(

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @12:53PM (#48103997)
    The Nobel Prize is an arbitrary award given by a committee with motivations unknown to the public. It is taken way too seriously by everyone.
    • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @01:31PM (#48104403)

      Huh? Motivations unknown to the public? Holy crap, then you are uneducated....

      The physics and chemistry prizes are awarded by Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien(Royal Academy of Science), whose everyday task is to promote science. In accordance with the rules laid down in the will, they are tasked with promoting science that leads to advancement for mankind. Thus, by necessity, they promote science that leads to practical advancements and not just "pure" theoretical advancements.

      The Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine is awarded by Karolinska Sjukhuset(A fairly renowned hospital with a significant research and education division). As above, their task, as laid down in the will, is to promote science by rewarding practical progress that leads to the betterment of mankind, and not just "pure" theoretical research.

      The Nobel Prize in Litterature is awarded by Svenska Akademien, whose task in awarding the Nobel Prize is by following the rules of the will, which is in fact somewhat problematic, because if they were to strictly follow the rules, they'd no longer be able to hand out any prize at all, due to how litterary styles and tastes have changed.

      The Nobel Peace Prize is handed out by the Norwegian Nobel Committe, which is selected by the Norwegian Parliament, according to the rules set out in the will.

    • Many years ago, I attended a lecture at my university that was given by William Shockley who received a Nobel prize along with others for their invention of the transistor. It was striking to me how the faculty reacted to him. They were truly in awe, and treated him with something close to reverence. I've always imagined that they received him that way because he received the Nobel prize, not because he invented the transistor, though it's just a feeling.

      Shockley was a controversial figure toward the end

    • by nashv ( 1479253 )

      You need to understand that the Nobel Peace prize is a very different thing, compared to the Nobel prizes for sciences and economics.

  • I seem to recall a prize started by a internet billionaire to rival Nobel, and he was giving out like $3 million per prize instead of Nobel's $1 million. Can't remember the name though...

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @02:09PM (#48104765)

    Holonyak's mistake is that he's missing life's opportunities for happiness and joy, because he's obsessed receiving adulation.

    I'm sad for the trap into which he's fallen.

  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @02:47PM (#48105159)

    The materials physics of creating a visible light LED was mirrored by what was going on in solid state transistor development. It was a great feat, but followed the work being done in electronics.

    Before actual demonstration of a stable blue LED, theorists in the materials physics community thought it was impossible. The process to engineer the bandgaps for blue/UV LEDs was new and unique. It was an example of the optics guys being ahead of the electronics guys in bandgap engineering.

    All that said, inclusion of Holonyak could be justified. His work was good. But... James Baird (who is also still alive) has a much better claim to the general LED discovery (including the first patent) and would be a much, much better inclusion. For IEEE to do an extensive article on Holonyak, but leave out Baird shows that this complaint is a farce.

    This award is not about how great LEDs are in general, it's about the quality of physics the blue LED folks did. Appreciate that the award went to guys who did truly great experimental physics.

    As a materials physicist, I am very happy with this prize. This is a very important recent discovery to my area of physics. Nobels as "lifetime achievement" awards are disappointing. It's much better to see an award go to someone who can leverage that prestige into new projects.

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