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2014 Nobel Physics Prize Links to IIT Chemistry Alumnus

For those accustomed to seeing the Nobel Prize in Physics go to the discovery of exotic particles such as the Higgs Boson, the recent announcement from Stockholm might come as a surprise. The 2014 Nobel was awarded to three Japanese physicists for their work in the development of a blue light emitting diode (LED). This was the final primary color, in addition to red and green, that allowed the use of tiny LEDs for flat panel displays, opening the door to the smartphone revolution, iPads, and a multitude of other uses of highly efficient LED lighting.

Hidden behind this revolution is the technology for creating the semiconductor materials and junctions used in LEDs as well as a number of other microelectronic devices such as high efficiency solar cells. This technique is called Metal Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD), a method for making single crystal semiconductors from gas phase precursors. The technique was invented by chemistry alumnus Harold M. Manasevit who received his IIT Ph.D. in 1959. Manasevit first demonstrated the method, which he called Vapor Phase Epitaxy, in the growth of silicon on sapphire. He then showed that III-V semiconductors such as GaAs could be grown by MOCVD and this led to the commercialization of red LEDs and laser pointers commonly seen today. Manesevit holds 16 patents and was awarded the 1985 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award “for pioneering work in metalorganic chemical vapor deposition, epitaxial-crystal reactor design, and demonstration of superior quality semiconductor devices grown by this process.” His papers are in the Smithsonian. He passed away in 2008.

John Zasadzinski, Paul and Suzi Schutt Endowed Chair of Physics, commented, “Harold Manasevit’s discovery is now one of the leading technologies of the 21st century, and still growing. He should be as well known as all of IIT’s other innovators.” Adam Hock, assistant professor of chemistry, added, “A well-deserved prize! As a proponent of MOCVD it’s great to see the impact of these techniques on our modern lives be recognized beyond scientific circles.”