George E. Smith


I was born in White Plains, New York in 1930. I grew up in several different states and attended a variety of primary and secondary schools. Upon graduation from high school in 1948, I joined the U.S. Navy where I spent four years as an aerographer’s mate (weatherman), part of it during the Korean War. While stationed in Miami, Florida, I managed to take enough courses at the University of Miami to qualify as a starting sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania in 1952. Since I served during the Korean War, I qualified for the GI Bill, which helped pay tuition. I majored in Physics and graduated with honors in 1955. I married right after graduation. I was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Chicago with a job as teaching assistant and graduated there in 1959 with a Ph.D. in Physics. During that time I also received grants from the National Science Foundation and Bell Telephone Laboratories. Upon graduation, I was offered a job with the Research area of Bell Labs and accepted it. I never bothered to interview at any other institution.

I was assigned to a new department, headed by Bill Boyle, where I started out continuing along the lines of my thesis topic, studying the electronic properties of semimetals. I branched out into other fields as well, including thermoelectric cooling materials and low temperature electronic devices. During the five years in that position I generated many papers and patents. Bill was then promoted to Director of the exploratory semiconductor device development laboratory and he offered me the position as head of a new department entitled Device Concepts. Several bright, imaginative people were assigned to my group and I was given the mandate to hire more of the same. Many fields were pursued including junction lasers, semiconducting ferroelectrics, electroluminescence, transition metal oxides, and the silicon diode array camera tube. In 1969, Bill and I invented the Charge Coupled Device and much of my time was then spent in that field. In addition, my department was renamed the VLSI Device Department where responsibilities covered the physics of devices made with submicron lithography and their use in high performance digital and analog circuits.

In the realm of academic recognition, I have been a member of Pi Mu Epsilon, Phi Beta Kappa, and Sigma Xi. I was made a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. I hold 31 US patents and am the author of over 40 papers. I was founding editor of the IEEE publication “Electron Device Letters”.

My major technical accomplishment, of course, was the inception of the Charge Coupled Device with Willard S. Boyle. We hold the basic patent  (US 3,858,232) and published the first paper disclosing the device concept accompanied by a paper on its experimental verification. A following invention of the Buried Channel Charge Coupled Device (US patent 3,792,322) significantly improved the performance of the original CCD. These accomplishments have been recognized in the following awards:

• 1973 Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute – “For the invention of the Charge-Coupled Device structure, a conceptually simple semiconductor technology with significant application to image sensing, serial memory and signal processing.”
• 1974 Morris N. Liebman Award of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering – “For the invention of the Charge-Coupled Device and leadership in the field of MOS device physics.”
• 1986 Progress Medal of the Photographic Society of America – “For the Charge-Coupled Device’s applications to electronic imaging devices.”
• 1999 IEEE Device Research Conference Breakthrough – “For pioneering work in the field of Buried-Channel Charge Coupled Devices”.
• 1999 Computer and Communications Prize – “For the Invention of the Charge Coupled Device (CCD)”.
• 2001 Edwin Land Medal – “For the invention and development of the Charge-Coupled Device, a contribution that has had extraordinary impact on image creation and utilization”.
• 2006 Charles Stark Draper Prize – “For the invention of the Charge- Coupled Device (CCD), a light-sensitive component at the heart of digital cameras and other widely used imaging technologies.”
And, of course,
• 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics – “For the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor.”
Additional honors include:
• 2006 Honored for the invention of the CCD by US Senate Resolution 478
• 2006 Induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
• 2006 Induction into the Imaging Hall of Fame
• 2008 Induction into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame
Also, I received the: IEEE Electron Devices Society Distinguished Service Award (1997).

On the personal side, I had always wanted to sail and purchased my first boat right after joining Bell Labs and sailed it and subsequent boats on Barnegat Bay, about halfway down the coast of New Jersey. My wife also enjoyed sailing but she passed away in 1975. I then commenced to raise children aged 10, 11 and 14 as a single parent. No comment necessary. Two years later, I became partners with Janet Murphy who also loved sailing and we had many adventures sailing a small (22 foot) cabin boat from Northeast Harbor, Maine to Beaufort, North Carolina. We both decided to retire (she was a teacher) early and sail around the world. To do this, we had a seagoing 31-foot Southern Cross, named Apogee, semi custom built for the task in Bristol, Rhode Island in 1983. After two shakedown trips to Bermuda, we retired in 1986 and started around the world. We did not get back until 2003, although we occasionally flew home for a short visit. We now live in our home on a lagoon leading to Barnegat Bay. Apogee is moored to our dock in the back yard and we still enjoy sailing on the bay.


1. W. S. Boyle and G. E. Smith, “Charge Coupled Semiconductor Devices,” Bell Sys. Tech. J., 49, 587, (1970).

2. G. F. Amelio, M. F. Tompsett, and G. E. Smith, “Experimental Verification of the Charge Coupled Device Concept,” Bell Sys. Tech. J., 49, 593, (1970).

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2009, Editor Karl Grandin, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 2010

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2009

To cite this section
MLA style: George E. Smith – Biographical. Nobel Media AB 2018. Sat. 20 Oct 2018. <>

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