Retired former Executive Director of Research, Communications Sciences Division, Bell Labs in New Jersey
Boyle’s major contributions include the first continuously operating ruby laser, which he invented with Don Nelson in 1962. Ruby was the first material ever made to produce laser light, and ruby lasers are now used for tattoo removal, among other things. Before Boyle’s invention, lasers could only give short flashes of light. He was also awarded the first patent (with David Thomas) proposing a semiconductor injection laser. Today, semiconductor lasers are at the heart of all compact disc (CD) players and recorders, but when Boyle patented the idea nobody had even dreamed of cds. Stereo hi-fi (or high fidelity) records were the new thing.
In 1962 Boyle became director of space science and exploratory studies at Bellcomm, a Bell subsidiary providing technological support for the Apollo space program of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. While with NASA, Boyle helped work out where astronauts should land on the moon. In 1964 he returned to Bell Labs and switched from research to the development of electronic devices, particularly integrated circuits, which are now essential building blocks in telecommunications and electronics in general.
Despite all these great achievements, Boyle is best known as co-discoverer of the charge coupled device. Besides their use as image sensors, CCDs can be used as computer memory, electronic filters and signal processors. Willard Boyle (L) and George Smith demonstrating one of the first CCD cameras (1975) As imaging devices they have revolutionized astronomy; virtually every large telescope, including the Hubble Space Telescope, uses CCDs because they are about 100 times more sensitive than photographic film and work across a much broader spectrum of wavelengths of light. CCDs have created entirely new industries (for example, video cameras and camcorders). To this day, Boyle and Smith continue to receive awards for their invention.
The Ballantyne Medal of the Franklin Institute, 1973
Morris Lieberman Award of the IEEE, 1974
Progress Medal of The Photographic Society of America
Breakthrough Award by the Device Research Conference of the IEEE
Co-winner, C&C prize of the NEC Foundation, Tokyo, 1999
Edwin H. Land Medal, Optical Society of America, 2001
Canadian Science & Engineering Hall of Fame, 2005
Charles Stark Draper Prize, National Academies' National Academy of Engineering (NAE), 2006
Dr. Boyle is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.