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3 Scientists Win 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics


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Three scientists share this year's Nobel Prize in physics. Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith have been awarded the honor for work in the field of fiber-optics light transmission and for inventing a digital-imaging semiconductor circuit.

The pioneering efforts of the scientists 40 years ago paved the way for the new technological world we live in today.

Shanghai-born British-American Charles Kao took half of this year's prize for his research that led to a breakthrough in fiber-optics. The practical application of his efforts can be seen everywhere. It is those fibers that facilitate the global broadband communications we now take for granted in many parts of the world.

Nobel physics committee chairman Joseph Nordgren says Kao's work really has shaped the way we communicate in the 21st century.

"He devised a pathway to obtain the low-loss fibers that were needed in order to communicate over long distances and this led to successful fabrication of such fibers a few years later," Nordgren said. "Today more than a billion kilometers of optical fibers around the world forms the backbone of modern, global communications."

The other half of the prize goes to Canadian-American Willard Boyle and George Smith from the United States. Working together at Bell Labs in New Jersey, they came up with the first successful imaging technology using a digital sensor.

Professor Nordgren said their pioneering research has helped to move us into the digital age.

"In 1969, Dr. Willard Boyle and Dr. George Smith invented a semiconductor device, the CCD sensor," Nordgren said. "This device allows an electronic recording of images and it replaces the photographic film in cameras. ... And the CCD records the image as a distribution of charged and small cells or pixels."

After the announcement in Sweden, Boyle was asked what winning the prize meant to him.

"I have not had my morning cup of coffee yet, so I am feeling a little bit not quite with it all," Boyle said. "But it is coming and I just have a lovely feeling coming all over my body saying, 'Wow, this is really quite exciting, but is it real?"

The physics prize is the second in the Nobel series.

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