HALIFAX — Willard Boyle is reminded all the time about the work he did 40 years ago that led to him sharing the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics.
“When I go around these days and see everybody using our little digital cameras everywhere, although they don’t use exactly our CCD, it started it all,” Boyle said after learning he is sharing the prestigious award with Americans George E. Smith and Charles K. Kao.
Boyle, who was born and raised in Amherst, N.S., and now lives in Halifax, invented with Smith an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the CCD sensor.
The device is the eye of digital cameras and is also used in surgical instruments.
In its citation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said “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 revolutionized photography, as light could now be captured electronically instead of on film,” the academy said.
Boyle said the biggest achievement resulting from his work was when images of Mars were transmitted back to Earth using digital cameras.
“We saw for the first time the surface of Mars,” said Boyle, who also holds American citizenship. “It wouldn’t have been possible without our invention.”