The Father of Modern Light: Nick Holonyak and the LED From Invention to Urban Illumination0

ecomagination staff | Thu Sep 27 2012

Nick Holonyak has swagger. “If they can make a laser,” the 83-year-old Holonyak declares of his work at GE’s laboratories in the 1950s and 1960s, “I can make a better laser than any of them, because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red. Visible.” It isn’t an idle boast: He’s referring to the moment, 50 years, ago when he invented the visible light emitting diode, or LED.

Today, Holonyak’s invention is transforming cities. GE announced that it will donate more than $200,000 in energy- and maintenance-cost saving LEDs to two Cleveland landmarks — the historic West Side Market and Cleveland’s Public Square.

Holonyak still has a memento from his Eureka moment — the original visible LED, marked “The Magic One.”

Now a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Holonyak takes justifiable pride in his invention: “As far as I am concerned, the modern LED starts at GE,” he says.

And it has kept improving. GE now produces an ecomagination-qualified LED bulb that shines like a 100-watt incandescent light bulb but consumes less than a third the energy.

With 16,000 workers, including 2,100 in Ohio, GE Lighting remains a core GE business. According to economic impact data gathered by the research firm TrippUmbach, GE’s 15,000 Ohio employees (including GE Lighting, Aviation and other businesses) directly and indirectly generate $11.2 billion for the state’s economy. Every 10 GE jobs in Ohio support 23 additional jobs in the state.

GE’s Ohio research also opens jobs elsewhere in the U.S. Last year, GE Lighting plant in Hendersonville, North Carolina, hired 100 new workers who manufacture efficient LED lights that illuminate streets in Las Vegas and Sydney, Australia, Walmart stores, and Marriott hotels. “Our customers want GE in the game because they love our quality and they love our commitment to them and their businesses,” said GE Lighting CEO Maryrose Sylvester. “They need people like us to step up and continue to invest in technology so they can save 50 or 60 percent of their energy costs and 80 percent of their maintenance costs.”

Says Sylvester: “We continue to be their partners in this revolution.”