Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: CMOS Image Sensor

By Lee Michaelides

Eric Fossum’s 1995 CMOS image sensor refocused photographic technology.
CAMERA ON A CHIP: Eric Fossum’s 1995 CMOS image sensor refocused photographic technology. Photograph courtesy of Amy Etra/BusinessWeek.

Co-Inventor: Professor Eric Fossum

What ubiquitous consumer product came out of the space program?

The right answer isn’t Tang, but CMOS: complementary metal-oxide semiconductor active pixel image sensor. You may not recognize the name, but chances are you’ve got several around the house. Practically every cell phone, digital camera or laptop computer that creates a digital image uses one. The CMOS sensor not only spawned a digital revolution, but also earned its co-inventor, Thayer professor Eric Fossum, a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Back in the 1990s Fossum led a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab that came up with CMOS technology as a way to reduce the size of cameras launched on interplanetary spacecraft. Fossum also foresaw the terrestrial uses for his invention, and in 1995 he and lab colleagues started Photobit, a company that licensed the CMOS technology from NASA. A decade later Photobit’s successor company sold its 1 billionth sensor.

Today Fossum, who joined the Thayer faculty in 2010, teaches classes in electronic devices and circuits and the “Introduction to Innovation” class in Thayer’s Ph.D. Innovation Program. He’s also credited with more than 240 publications and 135 patents. (And he has a dozen more pending.) His most recent patent, No. 7,916,193 B2, for an “Interpolator for a CMOS image sensor using a digital register” was granted March 29, five weeks before his May 4 Hall of Fame induction.

For more photos, visit our Research and Innovations and Summer 2011 sets of images on Flickr.

Categories: Inventions

Tags: entrepreneurship, faculty, history, innovation, patent

comments powered by Disqus