Friday, May 13, 2011

Good Bye, Willard

Click on photos for full size image.

I want to recognize the man who made my fishing trips so much more enjoyable, who made it possible for many of us to slip a small camera into our pockets, record our fish and our fishing experience digitally, and then easily transfer those photos onto our computers and blogs. 

It was Willard Boyle, who died last Saturday, along with his colleague George Smith, who invented the CCD, the charged-couple device, which is a light-sensitive microchip that made digital photography possible.

They received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Seems the least we could do for them.

Their invention is in everything from bar code scanners to medical endoscopes, and it revolutionized the world and became a billion-dollar industry. These guys, because they worked for AT&T Bell Labs, patented it and received a whopping $1.00 for the patent from Bell Labs.

So let me offer my heartfelt thanks, as some small compensation, for the great pleasure their invention has afforded me through digital photography, a pleasure that, happily, you can't put a dollar value on.

So how does it work? Well, according to Ms. Ruzena Bajcsy, Professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the Universtiy of California Berkely, interviewed on NPR on Thursday, it's a silicon substrate, which has three layers. One layer is light sensitive and converts light into electrons. The second layer is more like a capacitor. It charges and discharges. And the third layer has electrodes which electronically store and then read out the pattern of light.

That's clear enough, right? What's really clear to me, though, is that their invention has radically changed the way we see our universe--literally--and thus has changed our very perceptions of ourselves, the planet we live on, and the cosmos we are a part of.

Case in point: their chip was in the Mars Rover, and brought us never-before-seen images of its surface.

And it's in the Hubble Space Telescope...

Which brought us never-before-seen images of the Red Planet itself...

 As well as affording us the ability to see into the heart of space, and, for the first time ever, to capture a glimpse of our very origins.

Their chip is also in my battered little point-and-shoot, affording me the ability to see the world as I've never seen it before, and to go places I've never been, such as the deep space of a trout's eye.

Thanks, Willard.

1 comment:

  1. wow! Great memorial you posted! R.I.P. He will be greatly missed. Some things in life you take for granted were others lifes work.