2017 QEPrize goes to the creators of digital imaging sensors

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Categories: QEPrize

2 February 2017


Four engineers responsible for the creation of digital imaging sensors were yesterday honoured with the world’s most prestigious engineering prize. The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a £1million prize, celebrating world-changing engineering innovations.

Eric Fossum (USA), George Smith (USA), Nobukazu Teranishi (Japan) and Michael Tompsett (UK) were announced as the winners by Lord Browne of Madingley, in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal, at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Their innovations revolutionised the visual world; the charge coupled device (CCD), the pinned photodiode (PPD) and the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor.

Digital imaging sensors have enabled high-speed, low-cost colour imaging at a resolution and sensitivity that can exceed that of the human eye. They offer instant access to images ranging from minute cell structures to galaxies billions of light years away, transforming medicine, science, communication and entertainment.

The revolution began in the 1970s with the development of the CCD by George Smith and its use in imaging by Michael Tompsett. The CCD is the image sensor inside early digital cameras, converting particles of light, or photons, into electrical signals enabling the image to be stored as digital data. The following decade, Nobukazu Teranishi invented the pinned photodiode (PPD), reducing the size of light-capturing ‘pixels’ and significantly improving image quality. The development of the CMOS sensor by Eric Fossum in 1992 allowed cameras to be made smaller, cheaper and with better battery life.

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Chair of Judges said: “A picture is a universal form of communication. It can be shared instantly with anyone around the world, no matter what language they speak. We chose this engineering innovation because it epitomises what the prize stands for. It is inspirational, truly something that everyone can understand, and it has had a remarkable social impact worldwide.”

Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, Lord Browne of Madingley said: “The 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is awarded to four engineers who have revolutionised the way we capture and analyse visual information. The spirit of international collaboration driving the work of George Smith, Michael Tompsett, Nobukazu Teranishi and Eric Fossum encapsulates perfectly the ideals of the QEPrize. In honouring them we hope to inspire the next generation of engineers to continue to push back the frontiers of the possible.”

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