Thursday, May 12, 2011

CCD chip inventor dies

The NY Times reports:
Willard S. Boyle, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for helping to develop a device that is at the heart of virtually every camcorder, digital camera and telescope in use, died on Saturday in Truro, Nova Scotia. He was 86. ...

But nothing eclipsed his invention — in only an hour — of the charge-coupled device, or CCD, with George E. Smith, his colleague at Bell Laboratories.

The device, smaller than a dime, has become ubiquitous. It is the eye behind every picture on the Internet, every digital and video camera, every computer scanner, copier machine and high-definition television. ...

It works by taking advantage of what is called the photoelectric effect, which was explained by Einstein and brought him the Nobel in 1921. The photoelectric effect is the name given to the observation that when light is shined onto a piece of metal, a small current flows through the metal.
Not really. Boyle and Smith just invented a CCD memory chip, and had nothing to do with imaging. Furthermore the image sensor of today can be either CCD or CMOS, where CMOS is the technology used for microprocessors and most other chips.

Einstein did get the 1921 prize (in 1922), and the citation said the photoelectric effect and not relativity. At that time, he was famous for relativity, but many physicists felt that he did not deserve a prize for that. The prize appeared to be some sort of political compromise. The photoelectric effect had really been explained by Planck and Lenard, who got Nobel prizes for it in 1918 and 1905.

Einstein supposed showed that light must be quantized into photons to explain the photoelectric effect. A 1968 paper by Lamb and Scully showed that photons are not needed at all for this explanation, altho there is some controversy about this and it is criticized here. Lenard's experiment only showed that the absorption of light by the metal is quantized, but that could be a property of the metal, not the light.

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