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The inventors of a light-sensitive component integral to digital cameras, camcorders and medical imagers will share a $500,000 award for work that has revolutionized how people view themselves, the world and the universe.
Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, who developed the Charge-Coupled Device while at Bell Laboratories, will share the annual Charles Stark Draper Prize presented by the National Academy of Engineering. The honor was announced Wednesday.
In 1969, Boyle and Smith were trying to figure out a way for semiconductors to store data when they sketched out the design of the CCD, which would become the first practical solid-state imaging device.
"We were always coming up with new ideas, but most of them didn't work," Boyle said.
The CCD's surface is covered by semiconductor capacitors that hold an electrical charge proportional to the intensity of light striking it. That information can then be moved to a single output detector for processing by a computer.
Besides consumer electronics, the ultra-sensitive devices have been used in a variety of medical imaging machines, space telescopes and remote-sensing cameras. The Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers and other spacecraft all incorporate CCDs.