Master Of Light

In 1969, in a science lab in New Jersey, Canadian physicist Willard Boyle and his colleagues invented the concept of an electronic eye. Using their knowledge of mathematics and the behaviour of light they provided the science behind digital cameras known as a charged-coupled device or CCD. Earlier, Albert Einstein had observed the photoelectric effect - in which arrays of photocells emit electrons in amounts proportional to the intensity of incoming light.

The CCD technology revolutionized photography, as light could now be captured electronically instead of on film. CCD technology is used on the Hubble telescope and the Mars Lunar probe – not to mention smart phones. Says Boyle, “We saw for the first time the surface of Mars. That wouldn’t have been possible without our invention.”

One day many years later, Willard Boyle walked into a store in Halifax, wanting to purchase a new digital camera. The sales person tried to explain to him the technology of the camera and its various features but stopped short, thinking he was being too technical for the customer. Frustrated with the sales persons attitude Boyle blurted out— “No need to explain, I invented it.” The sales person couldn’t believe his ears and was only convinced when he looked up Boyle on the internet.

Sometimes we act like this salesperson with God. We try to tell him how life works or how we think it should work.

In 2009, Boyle was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics and referred to Boyle and his colleagues as “masters of light”.

With research from “The Globe and Mail”, May 21, 2011