Four men responsible for the development of imaging technology that has enabled cameras to be fitted to smartphones, tablets, drones and all manner of other devices have won the £1m 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
The award winners, announced today at an event in London attended by V3, are Professor Eric Fossum (above, right), Professor Nobukazu Teranishi (above, centre), Dr Michael Tompsett (above, left) and Dr George Smith (not pictured).
Each has played a critical role in the development of imaging sensor technology over the last 40 years, with each building on the work of their predecessors.
This work started in the 1970s when Dr Tompsett and Dr George Smith developed charge coupled device (CCD) technology that converts light particles into electrical signals. This charge is then converted into a binary digital form by an analogue to digital converter and the image stored as digital data.
This then led to innovations by Professor Teranishi in the 1980s on pinned photodiodes (PPD). This reduced the size of pixels that can be stored, helping drastically improve image quality.
Finally, Professor Fossum created complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology, that enabled cameras to be made smaller, cheaper and more efficient, heralding the start of the imaging revolution we know today.
This technology is not just used in smartphones either, but found in dental x-ray systems, scientific imaging, automotive safety systems and digital cameras.
Professor Fossum, Professor Teranishi and Dr Tompsett attended the event in London to receive the awards, and each said they were deeply honoured to receive the award and have their work held in such high regard.
"I'm really gobsmacked, it's astonishing and I'm very thankful to the Queen Elizabeth prize to win this award," said Professor Fossum.
Each man said they would look to use some of the prize money, split four ways, to help support youngsters entering the engineering profession, particularly girls, in order to try and ensure the next generation has the skills to continue to develop new cutting-edge ideas.
Looking to the future Professor Fossett said he thinks one area ripe for innovation is around high-sensitivity sensors that can work under very dark conditions, something he is working on right now within his role at Dartmouth University.
Dr Tompsett added that he believes the infrastructure around imaging technology, such as virtual reality headsets, will also be another major area of innovation that will help push the boundaries of what the technology is capable of.
Asked how surprised he was by how widespread his technology had become in the modern Professor Fossett said it was impossible to have imagined just how central to modern life it would become.
"Selfies were not something I thought about when developing the CMoS technology, or silly cat videos, but there are many things where this is now on the forefront of privacy and security. Cameras on drones, for example, who would have thought that would become an issue?"
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