Thursday, January 05, 2006

Engineering Nobel

I must confess that I didn't know of the existence of a high-prestige award -- sort of a Nobel-equivalent -- for engineers until a few moments ago.

Today's NYTimes reports:

Two former Bell Laboratories researchers who invented a microchip that became the building block for devices ranging from digital cameras to powerful telescopes were named winners yesterday of the 2006 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the engineering equivalent of a Nobel award.

Willard S. Boyle, 81, and George E. Smith, 75, invented the imaging microchip, known as a charge-coupled device, in 1969. The chip converts light particles, or photons, into packets of electrical charges that are nearly instantaneously shifted in rows to the edge of the chip for scanning.

"People don't know the nuances of C.C.D.'s but they know they have a camcorder and satellite images of the weather," said William A. Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, the nonprofit society that oversees the $500,000 award, which the two men will split. Mr. Wulf noted that the imaging chip also paved the way for live television broadcasts from portable cameras.