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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

One of the Greatest Illini Scientists

To celebrate the Illini trip to the Rose Bowl, the Alumi Association published a special edition of the Illinois Alumni Magazine, sent to even those, like myself, who neglect to pay Alumni dues to the Orange and Blue financial juggernaut. With a bit of suprise, I noticed a former co-worker of mine at the Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory (lab long gone) profiled, still a working researcher, nearly 80 years old.

Nick Holonyak, biography here, is the inventor of the LED, the Light-Emitting Diode, and numerous primary developments in the laser and and semiconductor science and engineering. He has won every engineering award in the book, and still works a full day as a researcher, winning a patent only 2 years ago for a major development in lasers. Yet, the fine biographies of Dr. Holonyak skip one of the highlights of my spotty career at the EERL, which was certainly highlighted by working with Dr. Nick.

Dr. Holonyak was a hard nosed researcher, participating in every bit of science and technology from theorizing, to computer programming, to metal working in the University machine shops. Having been an Illinois Central Lineman (perhaps along with Johnny Roesch) Holonyak would gladly lend a hand to anyone needing assistance with some machine tooling or techy problem. (I can assure you, not very many people at the lab were much help on anything beyond breathing helium and talking in a squeaky voice).

Many times I worked in the University machine shop with a welder, who had a curious gold-bug, named Jim Robinson. Jim was supremely irritable, horded valuable metals, hated students, and spoke of his own great wealth he gained by removing precious metals from scrapped projects. He was also a pretty good welder, but by no means worth the effort of engaging in a welding project, due to his supremely unpleasant personality.

By default, I was left working on a piping project with Jim one afternoon, involving silver-soldering two dissimilar metal pipes together for use in low-temperature fluid flow. I was guiding the pipes while Jim was working the 850 Degree soldering torch. We were having no luck in joining the pipes, while Jim yelled obscenities at me to persuade me to line the pipes up in some unknowable position that would make them stick, when Dr. Holonyak came over to assist us.

As Jim was yelling like a major demon, I am pretty sure I made the mistake of calling him "Millionaire", the derisive name assigned to him by the students in the shop, tired of his goldbugging yarns, which prompted Jim to sort of an over-reaction, pointing his torch at my gloves in an attempt to burn my hands. I jumped away, Al let out a blood curdling laugh, and to my suprise the inventor of the LED, Dr. Holonyak, jumped on Robinson and began choking him and then pummeling him with his fists. Robinson was caught off-guard, giving Dr. Nick 30 seconds or so to throttle him till other guys in the shop broke it up.

It may be the only time in my life where I was directly involved in a fight with a National Medal of Technology winner, and I salute the Dr. for his quick work in dusting off Robinson, and for his assistance in finishing the soldering project we had set out to do earlier.

Dr. Nick Holonyak, one of the greatest Illini scientists, is from Zeigler, Illinois. For 2 points, name a Wapella great who currently hails from Zeigler.

note: I changed a couple things in the story to avoid prosecution. Robinson is actually worse than described.


Anonymous said...

I want a rematch with Robinson and the Mod - and Dr. Evil has to be away from the action. Maybe a cage match.

Is Robinson any relation to famous pro wrestler Billy Robinson or maybe the Shiek given his use of fire? bbd

Anonymous said...

Good story.

Has Dr. Nick been on the History Channel?

Did he have anything to do with Organic LED's?
In the near future Organic LED will be used in the expensive T.V. everyone will wish they had waited for.

Anonymous said...

Good call on The Shiek, BBD. Indeed, from the description, it sounds like Dr. Nick applied The Shiik's finishing manuever "the Camel Clutch" to Jim, making his attempts at melting The Mod's hand futile.

Was there a breathless, near teary-eyed embrace by Mod and Dr. Nick after Mod was saved? Kind of like the Rocky/Apollo hug on the beach in Rocky III? Nearly all good Wapella fight stories end with uncomfortable hugs, methinks...

Hug or not, another great piece of lore to add to the "My teacher and I beat up a welder" genre that has become so popular over the years.

JBP said...


I gotta admit, I was running like a chicken to get away from the gold-crazed man with the torch.


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