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Nobel Awarded For Advances in Harnessing Light

By The New York Times

October 6, 2009

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The mastery of light through technology was the theme of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences honored breakthroughs in fiber optics and digital photography.

Half of the $1.4 million prize went to Charles K. Kao for insights in the mid-1960s about how to get light to travel long distances through glass strands, leading to a revolution in fiber optic cables.

The other half of the prize was shared by two researchers at Bell Labs, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, for inventing the semiconductor sensor known as a charge-coupled device, or CCD for short. CCDs now fill digital cameras by the millions.

In recent years, the physics prize has varied between perplexing, esoteric advances at the edges of physics and more comprehensible technology developments. Last year, the academy honored “broken symmetry,” a key but esoteric concept in the description of elementary particles. This year’s prize was more akin to the awards in 2007, which honored a discovery that led to smaller, higher-capacity hard disks in laptops and MP3 devices, and 2000, which honored developments in integrated circuits.

In announcing the winners Tuesday morning, Gunnar Oquist, the academy’s secretary general, said the scientific work honored by this year’s prize “has built the foundation to our modern information society.”

From The New York Times
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