Never heard of the names Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith before? Well, remember them now — thanks to their invention, you're able to use a digital camera today.
The two scientists were working at Bell Laboratories in 1969, and while everyone else was more interested in walking on the moon, they were busy making leaps of their own by coming up with the CCD sensor (charge coupled device). The pair came up with the technology within the space of an hour, sketching out its basic operations on a blackboard after some inter-departmental politics threatened to take their project funds away. The CCD was a response to the competing "magnetic bubble memory" project occurring at the same time at Bell Labs.
The image sensor is the heart of every digital camera, converting light that passes through the lens into electrical signals that form the digital image. CCD is not just used in cameras though — the technology has many applications in medical imaging devices as well.
Boyle and Smith won the Nobel Prize for Physics, 40 years after their invention came to light, sharing the prize with Charles K Kao who helped pioneer fibre optic technology.