Canadian physicist Dr. Willard S. Boyle is shown in a photo at his home in Wallace, N.S. holding a digital camera, a commonly used device that would not have been possible with out his 1969 invention, a Charged-Coupled Device. Boyle, along with two Americans - George E. Smith and Charles K. Kao, has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics. File photo
WALLACE - A revolutionary scientific discovery more than 40 years ago has earned a Wallace resident global recognition.
Physicist Willard S. Boyle was surprised to learn early Tuesday morning, he had been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics, along with two other Americans George E. Smith and Charles K. Kao.
"It was a blow," said Boyle from his Halifax condominium. "I first woke up in the morning with Betty pounding on me and she says, "Stockholm is on the phone'."
At first he felt it was a practical joker on the line knowing award recipients would soon be announced, but when his wife of 62 years finally roused him enough to take the call, he heard a woman's voice with a "sweet sounding Swedish accent" and knew it was for real.
"I thought then it can't be a joke, no one would have gone to that much trouble," he said. "Over the years I had thought maybe someday but it's been so long."
Boyle, 85, and Smith, 79, his former co-worker at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey in 1969, were honoured for inventing an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the Charged-Coupled Device (CCD), a key component of digital cameras and the heart of all video cameras, both analog and digital.
Kao was cited for his breakthrough involving the transmission of light in fiber optics.
The award's US$1.4 million purse will be split between the three with Kao taking half and Boyle and Smith each getting a fourth.
In its citation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences called the three award recipients Masters of Light and said, "Digital photography has become an irreplaceable tool in many fields of research. The CCD has provided new possibilities to visualize the previously unseen. It has given us crystal clear images of distant places in our universe as well as the depths of the oceans."
The CCD device is widely used in many different applications such as computer memory, medical equipment, electronic filters, telescopes and bar code scanners.
The pair of scientists created the charged couple device (CCD), while brainstorming to develop a technology to increase the speed of computer function.
The inventors were challenged to build a device that could capture light and would allow the image to be transferred from a tiny silicone chip to a computer.
It was the very first device of its kind, and until recently the only device, to manipulate light and had the capability of producing a three-pixel image, the tiny coloured dots that make up a picture. It has evolved since then to produce images with more than 10 million pixels.
The CCD technology makes use of the photoelectric effect, as theorized by Albert Einstein and for which he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize.
Although the CCD laid the foundation for modern photography, Boyle said from his point of view, the more important applications have been in the field of science.
The Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the many surveillance satellites circling Earth all incorporate the rugged and energy-efficient device.
"The thing that is absolutely beyond any comparison is that now we can look at the surfaces of planets," said Boyle. "For years we have speculated on what is up there, but now we can see."
He said seeing digital images of the surface of Mars would not have been possible without the invention.
Boyle's other inventions include the first continuously operating ruby laser and he also worked with NASA to provide technological support during the Apollo space program.
He credits his mother, who home schooled him during his childhood, for instilling in him a love of science.
The community of Wallace where Boyle and his wife Betty live and continue to be active volunteers is beaming with pride for their native son.
"It's a great honour for Bill," said David Dewar, curator of the Wallace and Area Museum, where a small exhibit recognizing Boyle's life-long achievements is on display. "This is just amazing. The Nobel prize is a world famous award recognizing his achievements."
Boyle is the second Wallace scientist to receive a world-renowned award.
Simon Newcombe, a scientist at the end of the 19th century, was awarded the Copley Medal, the world's oldest award for scientific achievement.
Along with the purse the three scientists will also receive a diploma and an invitation to the prize ceremonies in Stockholm on Dec. 10.