Dartmouth Professor Eric R. Fossum Wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

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Global Award Honors Engineer for Innovation that Benefits Humanity


February 1, 2017 — Eric R. Fossum, professor of engineering at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, has been awarded this year’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for the invention of image sensor technology that is at the heart of every digital camera today.

Invented by Fossum at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to miniaturize cameras in space, the modern image sensor is now ubiquitous, used in personal visual communications, entertainment, automotive safety, medicine, science, security, defense, and of course, social media. More than 3 billion cameras are made each year using CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) image sensors, some in standalone cameras and even more embedded in products such as smartphones and automobiles.

The CMOS “camera on a chip” that is the core of Fossum’s invention converts light into digital signals, and unlike its Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) predecessor, consumes far less power, occupies much less space and can be integrated with mainstream electronics production, thereby perfect for use in space as well as in mobile devices on Earth.

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a global £1 million prize that celebrates engineers whose innovations have been of global benefit to humanity. Introduced in 2011, it is the largest engineering prize in the world.

The previous winners are:

  • Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT: the first person to engineer polymers to control the delivery of large molecular weight drugs for the treatment of diseases such as cancer and mental illness, and
  • Marc Andreessen, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn and Louis Pouzin: the men who created the architecture of the web, the Internet and the Mosaic browser, which made the web accessible to anyone.

“I’m astonished,” said Fossum, after learning of the award. “We truly stand on the shoulders of those who came before us – a string of inventors whose contributions opened the door for an image sensor that could be used in virtually any application.”

Recently named associate provost for Dartmouth’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer, Fossum teaches several undergraduate and graduate courses, advises a large group of PhD students, and is director of the PhD Innovation program.

Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Fossum is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the IEEE and the OSA, and was named by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as an AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador. He has also been CEO of two successful high tech companies.

Fossum, a Connecticut native, received his B.S. in Physics and Engineering from Trinity College, and his Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale University.

“This is among the most prestigious honors ever bestowed on a Dartmouth professor in the history of the College,” said Philip J. Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College. “We’re thrilled for Eric and for the students who benefit from his experience and knowledge.”

“I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of this honor, in many ways the engineering equivalent of the Nobel Prize,” said Joseph J. Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. “Eric brings inspiration to our campus, teaches students to use creativity to solve global problems and mentors students in his lab — all contributing to the development of the future innovators of our country.”

Also receiving this year’s award are individuals whose earlier inventions sparked the dawn of digital imaging and contributed to Fossum’s innovative image sensor. They are Nobukazu Teranishi, research professor at University of Hyogo and Shizuoka University, Japan, and Michael F. Tompsett and Nobel Laureate George E. Smith, both retired scientists from Bell Labs.

About Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth

Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, the Thayer School of Engineering prepares leaders for a technology-driven world while solving pressing, real-world problems through research and entrepreneurship. Consistently ranked among the very top colleges and universities for its commitment to teaching, Dartmouth is the first national research university to graduate a majority-female class of undergraduate engineers. www.engineering.dartmouth.edu

About the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a global £1 million prize that celebrates the engineers responsible for a ground-breaking innovation that has been of global benefit to humanity. The objective of the QE Prize is to raise the public profile of engineering and to inspire young people to become engineers.