In 1969, at the Bell Laboratories, USA, Dr George E Smith and Willard Boyle came up with the original concept for the charge-couple device or CCD. Though originally intended as a computer memory circuit, the CCD went on to form the basis of digital image sensors.

Smith, who was born in New York, joined the US Navy after High School and took a maths course at a local university while stationed at an air base in Miami. After serving his country for four years, and with financial help thanks to the GI Bill of Rights, he studied physics at the University of Pennsylvania and gained a Masters and PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. Smith then joined the famous Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA, performing pure research. Boyle was his head of department.

Originally called ‘charge bubble devices’ (because small magnetised areas called bubbles or domains stored one bit of data), their CCD design transferred charge along the surface of a semiconductor instead. This meant it could be used for digital memory, like the magnetic bubble, or for imaging devices. Smith remained at Bell Labs until his retirement in 1986 working on a range of technologies, from lasers and the electronic structure of solids to electroluminescence. A keen sailor, he was also editor of Electron Device Letters for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Smith and Boyle shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 for their work in electronic memory design. This concept was the basis for the light-sensitive charge coupled device, or CCD, invented by Dr Michael Tompsett.