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World’s first LED, 50 Years Later

LED bulb founderGE Engineer Nick Holonyak turned on the world’s first LED 50 years ago.

The laser was still brand new in February 1963, when Harland Manchester, a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, weighed in The Reader’s Digest on the technology’s many applications.

“The latest dramatic laser discoveries, made by General Electric, may someday make the electric light obsolete,” he wrote. “If these plans work out, the lamp of the future may be a speck of metal the size of a pencil-point which will be practically indestructible, will never burn out, and will convert at least ten times as much current into to light as does today’s bulb.”

That “lamp of the future,” of course, is what we now call the light-emitting diode, or LED. Manchester could make his prophesy because he interviewed GE physicist Nick Holonyak who in 1962, 50 years ago this fall, built the world’s first LED. Holonyak’s diode emitted only red light but it lit a research boom whose multi-colored offspring now illuminate homes and cities, the latest iPad “retina” screens, and flat-screen TVs. “Boy, those were the golden years,” says Holonyak, now 83 years old. “When I went in, I didn’t realize all that we were going to do. As far as I am concerned, the modern LED starts at GE.”

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