"Know how to judge when to persevere and when to quit. If you're going to do something, do it well. You don't have to be better than everyone else, but you ought to do your personal best."
I was born in Nova Scotia, but when I was three, my family moved to the logging community of Chaudière in northern Quebec, where my mother home-schooled me. I attended high school in Montreal and, at the age of 19, joined the Royal Canadian Navy to fight during the Second World War. But boats made me seasick! So I applied to the Fleet Air Arm of the Navy and was sent to England. After the war, I returned to Montreal to study at McGill University, and earned my PhD in physics in 1950. Three years later, I started my adventure with the prestigious Bell Labs in New Jersey.
At Bell Labs, I collaborated with brilliant researchers. In 1962, with Don Nelson, I co-invented the first continuously operating ruby laser and, with David Thomas, filed the first patent proposing a semiconductor injection laser. That same year, I became the director of Space Science and Exploratory Studies at Bellcomm, providing NASA with technological support for the Apollo space program. I even helped choose lunar landing sites for Apollo spacecraft.
I returned to Bell Labs in 1964, switching to the development of electronic devices. Because of my success with lasers, I was made Executive Director of Device Development.
One morning in October, 1969, I was challenged to create a new kind of computer memory. That afternoon, I got together with George Smith and brainstormed for an hour or so on a new kind of semiconductor device, drawing a few sketches and equations on a blackboard. We called it a charge-coupled device: a "CCD". When we had the shops at Bell Labs make up the device, it worked exactly as expected, much to the surprise of our colleagues.
Intended as computer memory, the CCD became a keystone technology for astronomy, as it was ten times more efficient than traditional photographic plates. The CCD literally revolutionized astronomy. CCDs are now found at the heart of every telescope, professional and amateur. The stunning images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Rovers come from CCDs.
I presented a paper about the new CCD invention at a conference on "The Future of Integrated Circuits". Response from scientists, engineers and industry was immediate, and Smith and I went on to win many awards for the device that is integral to virtually every camcorder, digital camera and telescope in use today.