Pioneers of IT revolution awarded Nobel for physics

Three physicists won the 2009 Nobel Prize on Tuesday for work on fibre optics and light sensing that helped unleash the Information Technology revolution.

Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith were hailed by the Nobel jury 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. “This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded for two scientific achievements that have helped to shape the foundations of today’s networked societies. They have created many practical innovations for everyday life and provided new tools for scientific exploration”

Kao, who has British and US nationality but has been based in Hong Kong, was awarded half of the prize for groundbreaking achievements in the use of glass fibres for optical communication. The 1966 discovery by Kao, now 75 and retired, means that “text, music, images and video can be transferred around the globe in a split second,”

Boyle, a Canadian-US citizen, and Smith, a 79-year-old American, 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. The CCD, which converts light into electrical signals was invented in 1969.

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