How we came to see the world differently

This morning’s Observer column.

Bell scientists also were responsible for the laser, many of the technologies used in radio astronomy and mobile phones, wireless local area networking, information theory, the Unix operating system and the C programming language. Seven Nobel prizes have been awarded for work done at Murray Hill.

The latest of these for physics was presented in Oslo last week to Willard Boyle and George Smith, who on 17 October 1969 were trying to come up with an idea that would stop their boss’s boss switching resources from their work to another department working on sexy new kinds of computer memory. In a discussion that lasted “not more than an hour” as Smith later recalled they came up with a device that changed the way we see the world. They called it a charge-coupled device or CCD, and it developed into the sensor at the heart of most digital cameras in use today.

If you want to see the fruits of their work, log on to, the world’s leading image-hosting site. Launched in 2004, it was bought by Yahoo in 2005 and now holds more than 4bn images. Since you began reading this column, more than 600 pictures have been uploaded to it, automatically resized and each assigned a unique URL. It is one of the wonders of the modern world…