Michael Tompsett

Michael Tompsett
Associated organizations
Bell Labs
Fields of study
IEEE Edison Medal


Michael F. Tompsett’s development of the charge-coupled device (CCD) for imaging provided the major technology behind high-quality digital imaging in cameras, and his contributions to night-vision and thermal imaging devices have led to important applications for the military, fire fighting, and medicine. Tompsett joined Bell Labs in 1969 with the goal of developing solid-state imaging devices. Tompsett advanced the charge-coupled concept of Willard Boyle and George E. Smith at Bell Labs by exploiting its potential for imaging applications. Tompsett and his team were able to capture images with simple linear devices in 1971, and then went on to develop a series of CCD cameras, the first of which captured the first discrete-pixel CCD color image in 1973. Tompsett led the development of the first full television-resolution CCD camera in 1976. One of the components of Dr. Tompsett’s orginal patent still serves as the basis for today’s astronomical and nuclear event imagers. Prior to his groundbreaking CCD research, Tompsett had made important advances to thermal and night-vision technology working in the United Kingdom from 1966 to 1969. He first invented the uncooled pyroelectric vidicon camera tube to provide electronic scanning at room temperature, replacing large, slow, and low-resolution single-pixel scanners cooled by liquid nitrogen. At the same time Tompsett invented the first uncooled solid-state thermal imager, which serves as the basis for today’s devices used for night vision, fire fighting, to see through smoke, and for medical imaging. He also has helped revolutionize the video analog-to-digital converters used today in cameras and mobile phones.

Tompsett is an IEEE Fellow. In 2012 he received the IEEE Edison Medal “For pioneering contributions to imaging devices, including CCD imagers, cameras, and thermal imagers.” He is currently Founder and Executive Director of TheraManager, LLC, Murray Hill, N.J.