Willard S. Boyle


Willard Boyle shared half the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics with George E. Smith “for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit - the CCD sensor.” The other half of the prize was awarded to Charles K. Kao for his work in fiber optical communications. Early in his career Willard Boyle worked on the first continuously operating laser (1962), then he worked on space missions. In 1969 he brainstormed with George Smith the idea of Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs), which are now used in digital imaging in cameras and satellites. A CCD is able to move charge around in little bins that can be changed to a digital value. For a digital camera, when light shines on a photoactive region it causes the bins to accumulate charge in an amount related to the intensity of the light. A control circuit then transfers the charge to the neighboring bin until all bins have finally been dumped into a charge amplifier. The amplifier converts the information into a sequence of voltages that can be digitized, stored, and used to recreate the image.