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2009 Nobel Physics Prize Awarded To Three Americans

October 6, 2009

The 2009 Nobel Prize was awarded to three physicists on Tuesday for work on fiber optics and light sensing that helped unleash the Information Technology revolution, AFP reported.

The Nobel jury hailed Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith as “the masters of light” for transforming communications from copper-wire telephony and postal mail to the era of the Internet, email and instant messaging.

It said the men created many practical innovations for everyday life and provided new tools for scientific exploration.

The Nobel jury recognized fiber-optic cable, which enables transmission of data at the speed of light, and the digital sensor that is the digital camera’s “electronic eye”.

Kao was awarded half of the prize for groundbreaking achievements in the use of glass fibers for optical communication.

The jury noted that if it were to unravel all of the glass fibers that wind around the globe, it would get a single thread over one 600 million miles long — which is enough to encircle the globe more than 25,000 times.

Kao’s 1966 discovery means that text, music, images and video can be transferred around the globe in a split second, it said.

Richard Epworth, who worked with Kao at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories in Harlow, England in the 1960s, said what the wheel did for transport, the optical fiber did for telecommunications.

“Optical fiber enables you to transmit information with little energy over long distances and to transmit information at very high rates,” he added.

Boyle and Smith shared the other half of the prize for inventing an imaging semiconductor circuit — the charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor, which is the “electronic eye” of the digital camera.

Invented in 1969 and inspired by the photo-electric theory that earned Albert Einstein the 1921 Nobel, the CCD converts light into electrical signals. The committee said it revolutionized photography, as light could be now captured electronically instead of on film.

Numerous medical applications now use CCD technology for tasks such as imaging the inside of the human body, both for diagnostics and for microsurgery.

Boyle said he was proud to see the everyday applications of his work in the huge commercial success of digital cameras and pioneering pictures taken by scoutcraft to Mars.

“I see myself all the time these days when I go around and I see everybody using their little digital cameras everywhere … So we are the ones, I guess, that started this profusion of little small cameras working all over the world,” he said.

Australian-American scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider and Jack Szostak of the United States won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for identifying a key molecular switch in cellular aging.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel founded the Nobel prizes, which were first awarded in 1901.

Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, dedicated his vast fortune to create “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”

The three winners will split the award’s 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) purse, with Kao taking half and Boyle and Smith each getting a quarter.

The Chemistry Prize laureates will be named on Wednesday, followed by the Literature Prize on Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday. The Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on Monday, October 12.

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