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Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics. Read more about the Nobel Prize winners themselves, the Bell Labs engineer who patented the CCD imager, and the illustrious history of Bell Labs.

 

Last Monday, I asked Willard Boyle, who will share the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics with former colleague George Smith, a few uncomfortable questions:

Should Eugene Gordon have been on the patent for the CCD?
“I don’t think so. I don’t see it all. He didn’t have any entries in a notebook... I’ve no recollection of his having been around.”

Should Mike Tompsett be recognized for making the first CCD camera?
“Fair enough. He’s one of the three that made the first model. No problem there.”

What about those who complain that there is no physics to the invention of the CCD—that it’s purely a work of engineering?
“They should complain to the Nobel Committee. We’ve already had a nice engineering award for it.”

In a conversation with me it didn’t seem that Gordon’s claims had dented Boyle’s happiness in the least. I asked him what the week of the announcements was like:

“It’s been extremely busy,” says the retired Haligonian. He described the 05:00 wake up call from Stockholm as “a shocking moment.” His wife answered the phone: “Stockholm is calling.”

Since the call he’s been in contact with fellow winner George Smith: “We’re both happy. You get a nice comfortable feeling,” he says. (Several hundred thousand euros would indeed be comforting, in my opinion.)

Recalling the day he and Smith worked on the CCD concept he says that when he came home that night he told his wife: “George and I did something special today.”

Years later, he and Smith received a series of letters from major observatories around the world, thanking them for their work. “It made you feel good,” he says. He’s looking forward to going to Stockholm to accept the award.

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