October 6, 2009 / 11:40 AM / 9 years ago

FACTBOX - Nobel physics prize - Who are the winners?

(Reuters) - Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith, fathers of fibre optics and digital imaging, won the 2009 Nobel prize for physics.

Here are some details about the winners:


— Kao was born in Shanghai in Nov. 1933 and received a B.Sc. degree in 1957 and a Ph.D. degree in 1965 both in electrical engineering from the University of London.

— He joined ITT in 1957 as an engineer at Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., an ITT subsidiary in the United Kingdom.

— In 1960, he joined Standard Telecommunications Laboratories Ltd., UK, ITT’s central research facility in Europe, and rose through the ranks from a research scientist to a research manager during his 10 years of service. It was during this period that Kao made his pioneering contributions to the field of optical fibre for communications.

— Kao is credited for first publicly proposing the possibility of practical telecommunications using fibres. At the time, it was well known that information could be transmitted digitally, or in binary code.

— Also, the possibility of using light as the medium for such a transmission was considered, but various schemes to “guide” the propagation of light, for example, in gas filled tubes, demonstrated unacceptable signal losses.

It was also considered that optical losses in glass could never be low enough for glass fibres to be practical as a transmission medium.

— It was against this backdrop that Kao made a very careful study of the possibility of dielectric fibres for telecommunications in 1965.

— The development of optical fibre technology by Kao and others was a watershed event in the global telecommunications and information technology revolution. Optical fibre is the “concrete” of the “information superhighway.


— Boyle was born in in Nova Scotia, Canada in Aug. 1924. He served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Canadian Navy during World War Two but did not see active service.

— He gained a BSc (1947), MSc (1948) and PhD (1950) from McGill University.

— Boyle then spent one year at Canada’s Radiation Lab and two years teaching physics at the Royal Military College of Canada.

— In 1953, Boyle joined Bell Labs where he invented the first continuously operating ruby laser in 1962, and was named on the first patent for a semiconductor injection laser.

— He was made director of Space Science and Exploratory Studies at the Bell labs subsidiary Bellcomm in 1962, providing support for the Apollo space programme and helped to select lunar landing sites. He returned to Bell Labs in 1964, working on the development of integrated circuits.

— In 1969, Boyle and George E. Smith invented the Charge-coupled device for which they have been joint recipients of the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1973, the 1974 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award and the 2006 Charles Stark Draper PrizeCharles Stark Draper Prize.

— Boyle was Executive Director of Research for Bell Labs from 1975 to his retirement in 1979, when he moved back to Nova Scotia.


— Smith was born in May 1930 in White Plains, New York. He gained a B.S. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1955 and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1959. He joined Bell Labs in 1959, where he led research into novel lasers and semiconductor devices. He retired in 1986.

— Smith and Boyle invented the charge-coupled device while working at Bell Labs in 1969.

— Smith, working to improve video telephone technology, and Boyle, charged with creating a new semiconductor memory chip for computers, sketched out the basic CCD in an hour or so. In less than a week, they had a working prototype.


— The CCD is a silicon-based integrated circuit that converts light energy into an electronic charge. While not successful as a memory device, the CCD was key to dramatic advances in digital imaging technology.

— CCDs provide video imaging devices a wide range of applications, including broadcasting, digital cameras, endoscopy, desktop videoconferencing, fax machines, and bar code readers.

Sources: Reuters/www.nobel.org/ttp://www.iec.ch/ www.absoluteastronomy.com/http://www.invent.org

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