Alma Mater with a bowtie after the death of Nick Holonyak Jr.

An LED Campus: For Nick Holonyak Jr.

Nick Holonyak Jr. Photo by Bill Wiegand

Greg Moen easily recalls the first time he met Nick Holonyak Jr.

Moen has been with F&S since 1999, first as an electrician and now as supervisor of building craftspersons, where he oversees laborer-electricians, insulators, and machinists.

Holonyak— “pioneer of LED lighting,” and beloved Illinois alumnus and professor—died September 18 in Urbana. He was 93. 

“He is credited with the development of the first practical visible-spectrum LED, now commonly used worldwide in light bulbs, device displays and lasers,” wrote the UI News Bureau.

“I met Nick years ago when I was making a repair in his office as an electrician. As an electrician, I communicated my appreciation for his contributions to the industry since it directly affected me and the work I do. He immediately shared his appreciation for those of us who work with our hands and backs for a living. Nick offered me a cup of coffee and shared his humble beginnings. He showed me articles about his inventions and research from publications dating back to the 1960’s. It was not in an arrogant way, but as a way to show me the progression of research and technology throughout our lifetime.

“If my recollection is correct, he had photos on his wall with him and three different Presidents of the United States of America. He spoke with me and treated me and the work I did as importantly as his work. Nick never forgot his blue collar upbringing and had surprising humility for someone so accomplished. I was able to visit him many times after our initial meeting and it was always a treat when our paths crossed.”

Greg Moen, supervisor of building craftspersons

Students on First

One major LED installation is a shared use path along First Street, a thoroughfare to commonly-used student housing and campus property. The new path measures 10 feet wide and separates bike and pedestrian accommodations.

Fifty-one lights stream along the west side of First Street between Windsor Road and Curtis Road.

A motion detector turns lights from 30 percent on to 100, according to Roland White, public works director for Savoy. A ribbon-cutting was held in October 2022.

The new lights only increase an already high-percentage use of all outdoor lights on campus.

“About 75 to 80 percent [of university-operated outdoor light poles] run on LED lights,” according to Sushanth Girini, F&S management engineer.

LEDs Now

The University of Illinois became an LED Campus in 2012.

That year, Chancellor Phyllis Wise made the decision as a way to honor Holonyak. The commitment called for a campuswide prioritization of LED lighting, in addition to the following objectives: replacing interior and exterior wayfinding fixtures with LED fixtures by 2025; and converting a majority of lighting to LED by 2050.

Why LED?

LEDs require significantly less energy consumption than incandescent bulbs; they’re typically dimmable, can change colors and live longer.

“The energy benefit of LED lighting is routinely acclaimed, and rightfully so,” said Brian Finet, F&S electrical engineer. “The increased design flexibility, improved controllability, and opportunities for variable effects, provided by LED lighting make it a natural ‘go-to’ for almost all lighting applications.”

LED lights at the State Farm Center were turned red to honor the life and work of Nick Holonyak Jr., who invented the first practical visible-spectrum LED, now commonly used worldwide in light bulbs, device displays and lasers.

The laborer-electrician shop has converted thousands of lamps, said Moen. They change from incandescent, high-intensity discharge (HID), or compact fluorescent to LED.

“We no longer install incandescent,” he said. “They are almost always replaced with LED.”

Recent LED replacement projects

  • Oak Street Library Facility high bay lights
  • Underground steam tunnels
  • Recital Hall, Smith Memorial Hall
  • Noyes Laboratory room 100

The Beckman Institute tower is lit, too, as described in an F&S INSIDER story from February 2022.

Beckman at night
Beckman lit up with new LED lights in February 2022.