$500,000 prize announced for imaging technology

JANUARY 6--Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith will share the Charles Stark Draper Prize--a $500,000 annual award that honors engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society--"for the invention of the charge-coupled device (CCD), a light-sensitive component at the heart of digital cameras and other widely used imaging technologies."

Jan 6th, 2006

JANUARY 6--Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith will share the Charles Stark Draper Prize--a $500,000 annual award that honors engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society--"for the invention of the charge-coupled device (CCD), a light-sensitive component at the heart of digital cameras and other widely used imaging technologies." At Bell Laboratories in 1969, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were brainstorming about a way for semiconductors to store data and compete with new magnetic bubble memory technologies. "We were always coming up with new ideas, but most of them didn't work," joked Boyle. One day, however, they sketched out the design of the CCD, and soon researchers at Bell Laboratories and other companies were abuzz about the tiny, simple device. Boyle and Smith's invention became the first practical solid-state imaging device.

"Because they are small, accurate, and reliable, CCDs have found many applications as imaging devices," said Smith. They have become a ubiquitous component of electronics such as digital cameras, video cameras, and scanners. They are essential to many medical imaging devices, such as the tiny cameras that permit diagnostic procedures and smaller surgical incisions. Because CCDs are much more sensitive than photographic film, they are now used in space telescopes and remote-sensing cameras. The Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the many surveillance satellites circling Earth all incorporate the rugged and energy-efficient device and are thus able to transmit spectacular images to the world.

The CCD's flat array of semiconductor capacitors detects photons, and each capacitor holds an electrical charge that is proportional to the intensity of light striking it. Boyle and Smith's device was novel because it could hold this discrete, isolated charge, and then move it without circuitry interconnects to a single output detector. This makes the device very sensitive. The CCD's electronic read-out can be readily digitized and displayed and analyzed by a computer.

The Draper Prize was established in 1988 at the request of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Cambridge, MA, to honor the memory of "Doc" Draper, the "father of inertial navigation," and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology. The prize is awarded annually.

The National Academy of Engineering is an independent, nonprofit institution. Its membership consists of the nation's premier engineers, who are elected by their peers for seminal contributions to engineering. The academy provides leadership and guidance to government on the application of engineering resources to social, economic, and security problems. Established in 1964, NAE operates under the congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences in 1863. Visit the NAE awards site at www.nae.edu/awards.


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