Three scientists who created the technology behind digital photography and helped link the world through fibre-optic networks shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday.
Charles K. Kao was cited for his breakthrough involving the transmission of light in fibre optics while Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were honoured for inventing an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the CCD sensor.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said all three have American citizenship. Mr. Kao also holds British citizenship while Mr. Boyle is also Canadian.
The award’s 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) purse will be split between the three with Mr. Kao taking half and Mr. Boyle and Mr. Smith each getting a fourth. The three also receive a diploma and an invitation to the prize ceremonies in Stockholm on December 10.
Mr. Kao, who was born in Shanghai and lives in Britain, was cited for his 1966 discovery that showed how to transmit light over long distances via fibre-optic cables, which became the backbone of modern communication networks that carry phone calls and high-speed Internet data around the world.
Mr. Boyle and Mr. Smith worked together to invent the charged-coupled device, or CCD, the eye of the digital camera found in everything from the cheapest point-and-shoot to high-speed, delicate surgical instruments.
In its citation, the Academy said that Mr. Boyle and Mr. Smith “invented the first successful imaging technology using a digital sensor, a CCD. The CCD technology makes use of the photoelectric effect, as theorized by Albert Einstein and for which he was awarded the 1921 year’s Nobel Prize.”
The two men, working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, designed an image sensor that could transform light into a large number of image points, or pixels, in a short time.
“It revolutionised photography, as light could now be captured electronically instead of on film,” the Academy said.