Web Date: October 6, 2009
Nobel Prize In Physics
The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics recognizes two separate achievements in optical technology that have transformed spectroscopy, photography, and communication.
Willard S. Boyle, 85, and George E. Smith, 79, will share half of the $1.4 million prize "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit—the CCD sensor" or charge-coupled device. A CCD can accumulate light-inducing charges over its metal-oxide semiconductor surface and uses so-called charge bubbles to record images in electronic form. The technology is the basis for digital photography, and is at the heart of many spectroscopic instruments.
Boyle and Smith dreamed up the CCD one October day while working at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J in 1969. During a discussion that took no more than an hour they sketched out the device's basic structure and principles of operation. They even discussed possible applications. Today the devices are used in scanners, satellite surveillance, electron microscopy, and most optical spectrometers.
Charles K. Kao, 75, garnered the other half the prize "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication."
In 1966, while working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, in Harlow, England, Kao made a discovery that would lead to modern fiber optic communication. He investigated the fundamental properties of optical fibers with respect to communication, taking into consideration both the physics and materials properties necessary. Ultimately, he determined that optical communication would be possible with very pure fibers.
Modern telephone, internet, and cable television are all possible because of the groundwork Kao laid. According to the Nobel committee, were we to unravel all the glass fibers currently in use, we would a have a single strand long enough to encircle the globe 25,000 times.
This Bell Labs video chronicles Boyle and Smith's quest to develop the CCD.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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