October 9, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the invention of the light emitting diode by Nick Holonyak Jr. and his team at GE. Recently, Holonyak gave an interview to Wired magazine, in which he discussed the influence of lasers on the invention of LED lights, the birth of the LED, as well as its future. It turns out that lasers helped Holonyak realize that coherent light (meaning light that with a predictably constant source of wave interference) could be possible for light emitting diodes, which started out as incoherent light (meaning light with spontaneous wave interference). “The lasers I’m talking about are where the current goes in one terminal and out the other terminal, and in the path itself is the light generator because of the current going from minus to plus and generating the light. That is the diode laser,” said Holonyak. And so, lasers helped to inspire the LED light fixtures we know and love today.
Another interesting fact is that light emitting diodes used to be even smaller than they are today. While computers got smaller, LED lights actually evolved into bigger, brighter and more complex systems.
As far as the future of LED technology, Holonyak believes the sky is the limit. “You can look at them as just light sources, LEDs, but you can also make them in the form of lasers, and do surgery, photoactivation, all kinds of things that are specific to certain colors and all that. You can’t do stuff like that with a light bulb…You can make a whole variety of things that go into medicine, that go into instruments, that go into cars,” he said. “It’s not over; it’s in its infancy in some ways. It’s much more than its infancy, but it’s in its infancy in the sense that it can go a long, long way further.”
If, at 50 years old, LED lights are still considered to be near the beginning of their development, I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 50 years! To read the full interview, click here. And, happy birthday, LED lights!