Colleagues Claim Physics Nobel Laureates Undeserving

boyleandsmithAbout two weeks ago we reported that the “Fathers of Digital Photography” who invented the CCD sensor had won a Nobel Prize in physics for their revolutionary achievement. Now, two colleagues of Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith are claiming that the Nobel committee erred by doing “extremely poor research”.

Eugene Gordon and Mike Tompsett worked with Boyle and Smith at Bell Laboratories, where the CCD was invented. They claim that Boyle and Smith were taking the concept in the wrong direction, studying its applications in memory rather than imaging. Furthermore, they believe that Tompsett, who formerly led the CCD researcher group, should have been awarded the prize after being the first two build two examples of the device. Tompsett told Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail:

If you take it all literally, the prize should have been given to me, I think if their name is on it, mine should be, too.

Smith rejected the criticism saying that while Tompsett could be credited for engineering prowess, he wasn’t the original source of the idea.

Though smaller committees play an important role in the Nobel Prize selection process, nomination is made by thousands of people and scrutinized by the experts in each field. However, despite the apparent reliability of the extensive, multi-step process, the Nobel Prize has received its fair share of controversy, and this is simply another entry on the list.

  • nathanyan

    An interesting bit of discord here. Between the creators of the CCD and Tompsett is sort of the break between a scientist and an engineer. It's true that Boyle and Smith invented the CCD, but it's also true that Tompsett was the one who actually applied it towards making an imager.

    It's a bit like the invention of the wing, when someone shaped an object in such a way that it generates lift. And then the next guy coming along and realizing, “Hey, you could use something like that to make flying vehicles!” Both guys should be equally worthy of recognition, because you couldn't have an airplane with just one of those ideas.

    For my money though, if you had to choose one, I think in most cases it'd have to be the scientist. Once you've got a device like a CCD, where if I tell you “if you give this thing photons, it will give you a proportional number of electrons”, it doesn't take a huge leap to imagine “hey, I could make an imager with this!”, though of course putting theory to practice is far less trivial. But to come up with such a device from thin air, requires not just an engineering prowess but that dash of originality (or in some cases blind curiosity) that makes it far more impressive.