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The University of Illinois College of Engineering has announced the 2014 class of inductees into its Hall of Fame. The six newest members will be formally inducted on Thursday, Oct. 16 in a ceremony at the Grainger Auditorium of the newly opened Electrical and Computer Engineering Building (306 North Wright Street, Urbana).

Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame Site

The 5th Anniversary class includes physicist George Craford, the inventor of the first yellow light emitting diode (LED); L.S. “Lonnie” Edelheit, who helped make General Electric an innovation leader in producing some of the world’s most important products; John Houbolt, who championed the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) and Lunar Module (LEM) concepts used in NASA’s manned moon landing program; Max Levchin and Luke Nosek, who co-founded PayPal; and Larry Weber, whose research contributed to plasma display technology.

Craford earned both a master of science degree (1963) and a PhD (1967) in physics from Illinois while working with the great Nick Holonyak, Jr., the inventor of the first visible direct band gap LED, an invention that enabled the evolution of the high performance LED technology that today is in the process of becoming the dominant technology worldwide. He led the development of an improved new GaAsP:N LED technology in 1971 that yielded the first yellow LED and increased the performance of red LED’s by an order of magnitude. It became the dominant high performance LED technology for more than a decade.

The most notable GE advances under Edelheit’s leadership were the digital X-ray mammography, the digital Cardiac Angiography Systems, advanced ultrasound medical imagers, high-efficiency turbines for power generation, the GE 90 Jet engine, advanced lighting and electronics-based appliances and weatherable plastics.  Other highlights of his tenure at GE include significant advances in the introduction of advanced technology for GE’s services businesses, Internet applications and corporate R&D’s leadership of the design for six sigma quality and e-engineering initiatives throughout the GE businesses. Also under his leadership, corporate R&D vastly expanded its global resources with the development of new technology centers in Bangalore, India, and Shanghai, China.

Historians commonly believe if it were not for Houbolt’s contributions to the Apollo missions of the late 1960s, it was unlikely NASA would have been able to accomplish President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In fact, Time Magazine called Houbolt “Apollo’s Unsung Hero.” Houbolt’s idea was not the prevailing opinion, but he convinced the White House administrators, NASA officials, and lead NASA scientist Wernher von Braun to adopt his mathematical analysis of weights and reliabilities for the LOR. It was eventually chosen for the Apollo missions in 1962. Upon the lunar module landing on the moon during Apollo 11, Von Braun himself uttered the phrase, “John, it worked beautifully,” from Mission Control in Houston to publicly recognize Houbolt’s contribution to the endeavor.

Levchin’s rise to prominence has been swift. In 1998, he co-founded Fieldlink. After changing the company name to Confinity, he and Peter Thiel developed the popular payment product, PayPal, which gives users a way to send money without exchanging financial information.  In 2004, Levchin helped start and continues to serve as chairman of Yelp, an online social networking and review service, inviting customers to post reviews for local businesses. In 2004, Levchin also founded Slide, a media-sharing service for social networking sites. In 2010, the company was sold for $182 million to Google, who named Levchin its Vice President for Engineering. He continues to push the envelope of data-focused innovation working out of his own research lab. Founded in 2011 and dubbed “HVF” for Hard Valuable Fun, the lab is meant to be an incubator for data-driven projects. To date, two companies have been spun from HVF: the finance company Affirm, and Glow, an app that is giving women the information they need for fertility.

A contemporary of Levchin, Nosek is one of a team of University of Illinois computer engineering students/entrepreneurs from the mid-1990s that is creating and investing in new ventures that promise to change the world. While at PayPal, Nosek oversaw the company’s marketing efforts at launch, growing the user base to 1 million customers in the first six months. He created “Instant Transfer,” PayPal’s most profitable product. Nosek has also co-founded two other consumer Internet companies, including the Web’s first advertising network, and was an active venture capitalist in his personal capacity before launching the venture capital firm, Founders Fund, which has assets of over $1 billion.

Weber has been at the center of many of the innovations for plasma technology, including lower power consumption, high-contrast ratio and getting its foothold into the large screen TV market. Weber helped advocate the plasma technology even when in the early 1990s, its place in the marketplace was severely threatened when liquid crystal display (LCD) began incorporating multiple colors. In 1994, Weber successfully unveiled plasma’s color display and 1996 completed the first plasma 60-inch panel. He was the President and CEO of Plasmaco, Inc., from 1996 until his retirement in 2004. From 2006 to 2008 he served as the President of the Society for Information Display.

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