Technology & Science

Canadian inventor wins prestigious engineering award

Willard Boyle, a Canadian scientist who helped invent a light-sensitive chip, shares a $500,000 US award. The device is used in consumer electronics such as digital cameras, telescopes and medical imaging devices.

Willard Boyle, a Canadian scientist who helped invent a light-sensitive chip, accepted a prestigious engineering award in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Boyle and George Smith will share the $500,000 US award for the invention of the "Charge-Coupled Device (CCD), a light-sensitive component at the heart of digital cameras and other widely used imaging technologies," the U.S. National Academy of Engineering said.

Some of the best-known applications of the invention are in consumer electronics, such as digital cameras, video cameras, and scanners.

The Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Mars rovers and surveillance satellite also use the device.

The device is more sensitive than film, and is also an essential part of medical-imaging devices used in diagnostic tests and surgery.

Boyle and Smith came up with the idea for the device while working at Bell Laboratories in 1969.

"It was after maybe an hour's work," Boyle recalled. "We went over to the blackboard and we had some sketching there. We went down to our models lab and made one."

The prize is well deserved, say Boyle's admirers.

"I don't know of many inventions that created whole new industries," said William Wulf of the National Academy of Engineering.

Boyle is now 81 and lives in Halifax. He doesn't own a digital camera, saying things have gotten too complicated.

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