CCD pioneer, Dr. Willard S. Boyle, dies at 86

May 12, 2011 — Dr. Willard S. Boyle, along with George E. Smith, invented the charge coupled device (CCD) that, until recently, dominated the digital image capture market. Boyle and Smith developed the CCD some 4 decades ago (1969), layering light-sensitive material onto a silicon substrate to capture light patterns. This became the foundation of digital cameras. Boyle and Smith were both at Bell Laboratories (NJ) when they invented the CCD device. Smith said he and Boyle spent "not more than an hour" sketching out the original CCD concept.

In 2013, CCD shipments for digital still cameras will be surpassed by CMOS image sensors, says IHS iSuppli. This will be the first time CMOS image sensors have taken a majority share of this market. CCDs are losing ground to the better power consumption and lower fab costs of CMOS image sensors.  CCD sales will still see 2% CAGR 2005-2015, says IC Insights, noting that CMOS image sensors, by comparison, will experience 8.1% CAGR over the same time period. IC Insights provides market share and sales forcasts for CMOS image sensors vs. CCDs here.

Boyle, Smith, and Charles K. Kao (separate work) were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009. The Nobel Prize website posted a video interview with Boyle and Smith here (30 min duration).

Nobel lineage leading to Boyle’s 2009 award:
G. Lippman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his color photographic process based on interference effects.

1921: Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

The impact of digital photography, powered by CCDs, can be seen from medical tools to the audience-generated mobile-phone images that are allowing the world inside closed societies, as was seen in Egypt’s recent revolution.

Boyle was educated at McGill University and obtained a Ph.D. in Physics in 1950. He joined Bell Laboratories in 1953, where he was the Director of the Device Development Laboratory when he and Smith devised the CCD. Boyle was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1924, and passed away in Nova Scotia this week.


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