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 on Tuesday.
"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," Mr. Boyle said after learning he is sharing the prestigious award with Americans George E. Smith and Charles K. Kao.
Mr. Boyle, who was born and raised in Amherst, N.S., and now lives in Halifax, invented with Mr. Smith an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the CCD sensor.
The device is the eye of digital cameras and is also used in delicate 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.
Mr. 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 Mr. Boyle, who also holds American citizenship. "It wouldn't have been possible without our invention."
Harold Crowell, who is a friend of Mr. Boyle's and lives in the same Halifax waterfront condo building, said he was proud and excited by his friend's win.
"He's a great guy to know. He's an amazing guy," Mr. Crowell said. "He's always got lots of good stories and he's enthusiastic about doing things."
In an interview with the CBC, Mr. Boyle said he got a 5 a.m. telephone call and heard "this lovely Swedish voice and the voice said, "Mr. Boyle, you've won the Noble Prize. I said, 'My God, it's real.'"
Mr. Boyle said he knew the prize was about to be awarded but thought it was taking too long and he had written off any chance of winning.
Mr. Kao was cited for his breakthrough involving the transmission of light in fibre optics.
The award's $1.4-million purse will be split between the three with Mr. Kao taking half and Mr. Boyle and Mr. Smith each getting a fourth. The three also receive a diploma and an invitation to the prize ceremonies in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
After receiving his doctorate from McGill University in Montreal, Mr. Boyle spent one year at Canada's Radiation Lab and two years teaching physics at the Royal Military College of Canada.
He joined Bell Labs in 1953, where he invented the first continuously operating ruby laser with Don Nelson 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 program and helping to select lunar landing sites. He returned to Bell Labs in 1964, working on the development of integrated circuits.
Mr. Boyle retired in 1979 and moved back to Nova Scotia and served on the research council of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research and the Science Council of the Province of Nova Scotia.
With files from Associated Press
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