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  • Father of Digital Camera Dies
May 2011
WALLACE, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 20, 2011 — Willard S. Boyle, a laser pioneer and co-developer of the CCD imaging chip, died May 7 at the age of 86.

Boyle and his Bell Labs colleague George E. Smith developed the charge-coupled device (CCD) in 1969 while pursuing a new way to achieve semiconductor computer memory. The pair’s achievements led to multiple applications, including modern digital cameras, and the imagers at the heart of telescopes, fax machines, bar-code scanners, endoscopes, satellite imaging and more. Boyle and Smith shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics for their work on the technology. (See: Masters of Light Garner Nobel

Willard S. Boyle, co-inventor of the CCD, has died at the age of 86. (Image: Nobel Foundation/University of Montana)

Boyle, a citizen of both the US and Canada, was born in Nova Scotia on Aug. 19, 1924. He was a fighter pilot for the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, afterward earning his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in physics from McGill University in Montreal.

In 1953, Boyle joined Bell Labs in New Jersey, where one of his first accomplishments was helping to develop the first continuous-wave ruby laser after Ted Maiman had finished his pulsed version. While still at Bell, he advised NASA on where the first moon landing should occur during the Apollo program.

The breakthrough leading to the CCD came in 1969, when Boyle and Smith theorized a method to read out the electrical signals generated by the photoelectric effect inside an array of individual silicon pixels. Within a short time, they had created the first working CCD chip.

By 1970, Boyle and Smith demonstrated the first solid-state video camera based on CCD principles; well into the 1970s, they further increased the resolution of the imaging chip. Boyle retired from Bell Labs in 1979, returning to a quieter life in Wallace, Nova Scotia, near the town where he was born.

In addition to the physics Nobel, Boyle earned such accolades as the C&C Prize, the inaugural IEEE Breakthrough Award, the IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award, the Edwin Land Medal, the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal and the National Academy of Engineering’s Charles Stark Draper Prize. He was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2005 and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2010.

Boyle is survived by his wife, Betty, his three children, 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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