MURRAY HILL, N.J., Jan. 5, 2006 -- Former Bell Labs researchers Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith are this year's recipients of what is considered to be one of the highest honors in engineering, the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Stark Draper Prize. The award recognizes engineers whose accomplishments have significantly impacted society, and Boyle and Smith are being honored for their invention and development of the charge-coupled device (CCD), an essential component to many of today's most popular consumer electronics, such as digital and video cameras and high-definition televisions. It is also an important part of optical communication networks, space telescopes and medical imaging devices.
The award, which includes $500,000 to be shared by the two men, will be presented on Feb. 21, 2006, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week.
In this 1974 photo, Bell Labs researchers Willard S. Boyle (left) and George E. Smith, inventors of the charged-coupled device (CCD), demonstrate an experimental TV camera based on CCD technology. (Photo: Lucent Technologies Bell Labs)
At Bell Laboratories (the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies) in 1969, Boyle and 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 they sketched out the design of the CCD, and soon researchers at Bell Laboratories and other companies were talking about it. 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 orbiting Earth all incorporate the rugged and energy-efficient device to enable the transmission of images.
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 readout can be readily digitized and displayed and analyzed by a computer.
By 1970, the Bell Labs researchers had built the CCD into the world's first solid-state video camera. In 1975, they demonstrated the first CCD camera with image quality sharp enough for broadcast television.
Beginning in 1983, telescopes were first outfitted with solid-state CCD cameras, which enabled astronomers to study objects thousands of times fainter than the most sensitive existing photographic plates, and enabled scientists to image in seconds what would have taken hours before. Today, most optical observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, rely on digital information systems built around "mosaics" of ultrasensitive CCD chips. CCD-enabled cameras also are used in satellite observations of the earth for environmental monitoring, surveying and surveillance. The insights behind CCDs also played a crucial role in the emergence of optical networking, the underlying transport technology for both the Internet and all other core communication networks today.
From 1953-79, Boyle led Bell Labs research in optical and satellite communications, digital and quantum electronics, computing and radio astronomy. He was also part of the scientific team that helped NASA select the site for the first Apollo landing on the moon in 1969. He now resides in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Smith performed research at Bell Labs from 1959-86. For much of this time, he led research aimed at creating novel lasers and other semiconductor devices. He continues to reside in New Jersey.
The impact of Boyle and Smith's CCD innovation has also been recognized with the Franklin Institute's Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1973, the IEEE's 1974 Morris Liebmann Award in 1974, the C&C Prize from Japan in 1999, the IEEE Device Research Conference Breakthrough Award in 1999, the Photographic Society of America's Progress Medal award and the 2001 Edwin Land Medal.
Endowed by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., the Draper Prize recognizes outstanding engineering achievements that have contributed to the welfare and freedom of humanity. The first Draper Prize was awarded in 1989 to Jack S. Kilby and Robert N. Noyce for their invention of the integrated circuit. Recipients of the prize have included the inventors of the turbojet engine, the developer of FORTRAN computer language and the developers of satellite communications.
For more information, visit: www.nae.edu