Willard Boyle

Boyle in 2009
Born(1924-08-19)August 19, 1924
DiedMay 7, 2011(2011-05-07) (aged 86)
  • Canada
  • United States[2]
Alma mater
Known forCharge-coupled device[3]
Betty Boyle
(m. 1946)
Scientific career
FieldsApplied physics
InstitutionsBell Labs
ThesisThe construction of a Dempster type mass spectrometer: its use in the measurement of the diffusion rates of certain alkali metals in tungsten (1950)
Doctoral advisorH.G.I. Watson

Willard Sterling Boyle, CC (August 19, 1924 – May 7, 2011) was a Canadian physicist.[4] He was a pioneer in the field of laser technology and co-inventor of the charge-coupled device.[5] As director of Space Science and Exploratory Studies at Bellcomm he helped select lunar landing sites and provided support for the Apollo space program.[6]

On October 6, 2009, it was announced that he would share the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for "the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor, which has become an electronic eye in almost all areas of photography".[2]

He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada – the award's highest level – on June 30, 2010.[7]

Early life

Born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, on August 19, 1924, Boyle was the son of a medical doctor and moved to Quebec with his father and mother Bernice when he was less than two.[8] He was home schooled by his mother until age fourteen, when he attended Montreal's Lower Canada College to complete his secondary education.[8]


Boyle attended McGill University, but his education was interrupted in 1943, when he joined the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.[8] He was loaned to the Royal Navy, where he was learning how to land Spitfires on aircraft carriers as the war ended.[8] He gained a BSc in 1947, an MSc in 1948, and a PhD in 1950, all from McGill.[9]


After receiving his doctorate, Boyle spent one year at Canada's Radiation Lab and two years teaching physics at the Royal Military College of Canada.[8]

Bell Labs

In 1953 Boyle joined Bell Labs where he invented the first continuously operating ruby laser with Don Nelson in 1962,[6] and was named on the first patent for a semiconductor injection laser.[6] 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.[6] He returned to Bell Labs in 1964, working on the development of integrated circuits.[6]

Invention of charge-coupled device

In 1969, Boyle and George E. Smith invented the charge-coupled device (CCD), for which they have jointly received the Franklin Institute's Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1973, the 1974 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award, the 2006 Charles Stark Draper Prize, and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.[9][6] The CCD allowed NASA to send clear pictures to Earth back from space.[10] It is also the technology that powers many digital cameras today. Smith said of their invention: "After making the first couple of imaging devices, we knew for certain that chemistry photography was dead."[11] Eugene Gordon and Mike Tompsett, two now-retired colleagues from Bell labs, claim that its application to photography was not invented by Boyle.[12] Boyle was Executive Director of Research for Bell Labs from 1975 until his retirement in 1979.[10]

Personal life

In retirement he split his time between Halifax and Wallace, Nova Scotia.[13] In Wallace, he helped launch an art gallery with his wife, Betty, a landscape artist.[8] He was married to Betty since 1946 and had four children, 10 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.[5]

In his later years, Boyle suffered from kidney disease, and due to complications from this disease, died in a hospital in Nova Scotia on May 7, 2011.[10]


  1. ^ Willard Sterling Boyle
  2. ^ a b Willard Boyle on Nobelprize.org Edit this at Wikidata
  3. ^ Smith, George (2011). "Willard Boyle (1924–2011) Physicist who helped invent the 'eye of the digital camera'". Nature. 474 (7349): 37. doi:10.1038/474037a. PMID 21637246.
  4. ^ Chang, Kenneth (October 7, 2009). "Nobel Awarded for Harnessing Light". The New York Times. New York. p. A20. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  5. ^ a b "Canadian scientist shares Nobel physics prize". CBC News. Toronto. October 6, 2009. Archived from the original on July 24, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Mahoney, Jill; Elizabeth Church (October 7, 2009). "The Nobel Physics Prize: A Canadian who took big risks takes home the big prize". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. pp. A1–A2.
  7. ^ Governor General of Canada (June 30, 2010). "Governor General announces 74 new appointments to the Order of Canada". It's an Honour. Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on June 12, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Baxter, Joan (February 16, 2006). "A modest man's big idea Digital chip changed the world". The Toronto Star: A3. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2009.
  9. ^ a b "McGill congratulates its second Nobel-winning alumnus of 2009". Alumni News. McGill University. October 6, 2009. Archived from the original on January 31, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c Maugh II, Thomas H. (May 19, 2011). "Nobelist was a father of the digital camera". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on December 7, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  11. ^ Cassingham, Randy (May 15, 2011). "Willard Boyle". This is True. Ridgway, Colorado. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  12. ^ Nobel Controversy: Former Bell Labs Employee Says He Invented the CCD Imager IEEE
  13. ^ "Nobel laureate dies Saturday". Amherst Daily News. Amherst, N.S. May 8, 2011. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2015.