Nobel Physics Winners Changed Our Lives

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Nobel Prize
Artwork: Chip Taylor
Like the Internet? Own a digital camera? If so, please take a moment to thank today's three Nobel prizewinners for their discoveries.

The three American scientists, honored today with the 2009 Physics prize, helped give us modern telecommunications--including the Internet--and digital photography. Fiber optic cable makes the high-speed communications possible, while charge-coupled devices (CCDs) are the cornerstone of digital photography.

Sad it took 40 years to honor these great men--their work was done during the 1960's--but good health has smiled upon all three, now in their 70's and 80's. (Nobels are not awarded posthumously).

Charles Kao, who also holds British citizenship, is being honored for his work helping to develop fiber optics, the oh-so-slender glass pipelines than carry digital data--converted into pulses of colored light--around the world. Born in 1933, Kao was in England when he invented a method to dramatically improve the purity of the glass used to construct the fibers.

The other half of the $1.4 million prize was won by Willard Boyle, 85, and George Smith, 79, for their invention of the CCD, made at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1969. CCDs are based on the photoelectric effect, which itself won a Nobel for Albert Einstein. Dr. Boyle also holds Canadian citizenship.

Read about the science being honored in this New York Times story.

Many other people played a part in making these Nobel-winning discoveries a part of daily life. In honoring these three today, perhaps we can also honor all those who make our technology-based lives possible.

Better, we can recommit ourselves to supporting basic science and research--hard thinking--that is so out-of-fashion in much of society today.

At a time when we need more answers than ever before, we should be concerned about how many people are capable of asking the questions and putting what they discover to use for the good of everyone.

You and I are direct beneficiaries of the work the Nobel committee has chosen to honor today. (The ceremony will be held Dec. 10 in Stockholm).

Let's honor these scientists by supporting math and science education and, perhaps, in another 40 years we'll be honoring a new generation of American scientists for their life-changing achievements.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web page.

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