Nova Scotia

Willard Boyle, N.S. Nobel laureate, dies at 86

Willard Boyle, a Nobel laureate from Amherst, N.S., whose work paved the way for digital photography, died Saturday at 86.
Governor General David Johnston invests Willard Boyle as a Companion of the Order of Canada in Nov. 2010. Boyle, who died Saturday, is best known for his work on the charge coupled device, for which he won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Willard Boyle, a Nobel laureate from Amherst, N.S. whose work paved the way for digital photography, died Saturday at the age of 86.

Boyle won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009 for his work in developing a type of semi-conductor circuit that revolutionized the way the world takes pictures.

Longtime friend and Cumberland municipal councillor Ron MacNutt said Boyle appreciated the honour, but wished it had come sooner.

"We actually had a couple of celebrations in the community, one of which was at the local high school, and he had some regret that that recognition came a little bit late for him to get out and do more of that, to talk to younger children in school," MacNutt said.

"He may have been able to influence even more people in his life had he been given the chance earlier on."

This Dec. 20, 1974, photo shows researchers Willard Boyle, left, and George Smith with the charge-coupled device, which transforms patterns of light into useful digital information. ((Alcatel-Lucent/Bell Labs/Associated Press))

Boyle, who in his later years split his time between Halifax and Wallace, N.S., was born in Amherst in 1924 and moved to northern Quebec as a child so his father could work as a doctor at a lumber camp. He was home-schooled by his mother until he went to high school at Lower Canada College in Montreal.

He flew Spitfires in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War.

After the war, Boyle went back to school and completed a PhD in physics at McGill University in 1950. He taught physics at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., before joining Bell Labs in New Jersey.

He shared the Nobel with George E. Smith and Charles Kao for their "groundbreaking achievements" in physics.

"They don't tell you until the last minute, and it's the biggest surprise of your life to wake up and somebody says you've won a Nobel Prize," Boyle told CBC News at the time of his win.

The scientists' discoveries included the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication and the invention of the charge-coupled device (CCD sensor), which is an imaging semiconductor circuit used as a digital camera's electronic eye.

The work by the three scientists "created many practical innovations for everyday life and provided new tools for scientific exploration," said the prize citation.

The technology Boyle helped invent is also commonly used in medical imaging and astronomy.

With files from The Associated Press