Happy 50th birthday, LEDs! It was the summer of 1962 when Nick Holonyak Jr. made a massive leap forward in the evolution of efficient electronic illumination. He and a research team at GE were conducting what he calls exploratory work–creating “a lot of history and a lot of devices that didn’t exist until we made them exist”–and building upon the discovery of scientist Robert Hall, who built the world’s first semiconductor laser, which was infrared and invisible.
In the video above, the now 83-year-old Holonyak, who is still a professor at the University of Illinois, discusses his upbringing–including parents who were “not educated, but both knew that school was important”–and the elation that came along with developing a red laser “you could see with your eyes,” earning him the distinguished title of inventor of the light-emitting diode (which was labeled with the handwritten note, “The Magic One”).
Of course, GE produced this video largely to pump up its 27-watt LED bulb–available in 2013–to replace the 100-watt incandescent. But it does produce a touching moment at the end, when Holonyak is handed this new specimen; his face lights up as he handles it gently while carefully looking it over . “It’s much more compact than I thought it would be,” he says. “I thought it would be clumsier. It looks like it would be more like a 40-watt bulb.” He smiles widely as he leans forward with excitement. “And you know what? This isn’t the end!”