Michael Tompsett

Michael Tompsett 2

Dr Michael Tompsett is an engineer, inventor and the founder director of the US software company TheraManager. He invented the imaging semiconductor circuit and the analogue-to-digital converter chip at the heart of the charge-coupled device or CCD image sensor technology used by most modern digital cameras and smartphones. Born in Britain, he studied physics at the University of Cambridge and also complete an engineering PhD there (1962-66).

Tompsett invented the un-cooled pyro-electric thermal imaging television camera tube in 1968 while working at the Electric Valve Company (now e2v) in England. This provided electronic scanning at room temperature – previously scanners required cooling by liquid nitrogen. Its solid state version is the basis for thermal imagers used by search and rescue services and the military. Thermal imaging is also an important diagnostic and screening tool within medicine and a part of Tompsett’s original patent serves as the basis for nuclear event, space and astronomy imagers. After joining AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories in the United States, Tompsett ran their CCD group during the 1970s. He exploited the device’s potential for digital imaging and, together with his team, developed a series of CCD cameras and produced the first pixel CCD colour image in 1973. It was a picture of his wife and made the cover of Electronics Magazine.

After taking early retirement from Bell Labs in 1989, he joined the US Army as Director of Electron Device Research for six years. In 2012 the US Government awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, its highest honour for engineers and inventors. He has also been presented with the IEEE Edison Gold Medal and was elected a Member of the National Academy of Engineering.


Three innovations across three decades have revolutionised our visual world: the charge-coupled device; the pinned photodiode and the complementary metal oxide semiconductor image sensor.