si si d, doctor B

Dr Willard Boyle in 2009 courtesy of Wikipedia

Toronto. Years ago, I discovered Bell Labs via the journal, Bell Systems Technical Journal. One issue in particular impressed me since it included a cardboard 78 rpm record of a computer singing, ‘A Bicycle Built for Two’!  Now-a-days computers are passé. Even smartphones have computers and cameras built-in. In fact, most of us use the camera on our smartphone without a thought to its complexity. It is actually a technological marvel with its camera owing a debt to the Bell System and the telephone for the workings of some of its components. How, you may ask? Well, since you ask …

For the camera, a lens composed of various glass elements is still needed, but the complexities of white balance, exposure, aperture, ISO, file structure, etc., are handled by a nifty little computer. And the modern sensor, based on CMOS solid state technology, has replaced the somewhat temperamental ‘film’ and its light sensitive coating.

This is where the Labs came in. In the early days of sensors, high-end imaging required so called a CCD or charge coupled device. Such devices were invented at Bell System Laboratories (Bell Labs) jointly owned at the time by AT&T and Western Electric. The fruits of the Labs were shared by telephone companies belonging to the Bell System throughout North America (including Bell Canada). Around 1969, Willard Boyle (born in Nova Scotia) and George Smith, working in one of the laboratories (perhaps at Murray Hill,  New Jersey) on MOS solid state devices came up with the CCD concept for which they shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2009.

So the next time you whip out that smartphone to capture a photo, think of its ancestors, the old telephones, the late Drs Boyle & Smith and the CCD, all of which led to the replacement of ‘film’ decades later.

PS. Thanks to good friend and PHSC member, George Dunbar for suggesting the CCD topic and the part played by Dr Boyle.

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