Winner of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Dr Michael Tompsett, was last night awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s top prize.

Established in 1878, the Progress Medal recognises the inventions, research, publication or contribution that has resulted in an important advance in the scientific or technological development of photographic imaging in the widest sense.

Tompsett received the honour for the invention of the imaging semiconductor circuit and analogue-to-digital converter chip at the heart of the charge coupled device (CCD). The CCD image sensor is found in early digital cameras and is packed with light-capturing cells called pixels. When particles of light, or ‘photons’ hit these pixels, they produce an electrical pulse. Brighter lights produce a stronger electrical pulse.

The underlying principle for the CCD was co-invented by George Smith and Willard Boyle, before Tompsett recognised its imaging potential. Together with his team at AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in the United States, Tompsett developed a series of CCD cameras. This discovery led to the world’s first pixel CCD colour image in 1973, featured on the cover of International Electronics magazine.

Tompsett attended the awards ceremony in London with his wife Margaret, the world’s first digital cover-girl.  Alongside the prestigious medal, Tompsett is also granted an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society.

Among the past recipients of the Progress Medal are QEPrize winners Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Eric Fossum, Nobukazu Teranishi and George Smith. Other notable winners include veteran broadcaster and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, and artist and photographer, David Hockney.

Also receiving awards last night were some of the top names in art, science, film and publishing. Fashion photographer, Jane McLeish-Kelsey was recognised for her work in editorial, advertising and fashion photography; pioneer of colour photography, Joel Sternfeld received an Honorary Fellowship; and a new award for 2017 was unveiled.

The inaugural Award for Cinematic Production went to David Heyman for his outstanding contribution to the development of cinematic film. Heyman is best known for producing the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and the later Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film series. Also among his production credits are Gravity, I Am Legend and The Light Between Oceans.

 

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