The computer scientist who created the pixel in 1957 passed away on August 11 in Portland, Oregon. Russell Kirsch was 91 years old.  His first digital image using pixels was a 2”x 2” black and white photo of his three month old son, with only 30,976 total pixels (176 per side).  In comparison, cell phone cameras now capture approximately 12 million pixels in an image.  His son’s photo was one of the earliest ever scanned into a computer.  In 2003, Life magazine named his son’s photo as one of “100 Photographs That Changed the World.”

In an effort to feed pictorial data into the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (the first programmable computer in the United States), Kirsch brought in a photograph of his son.  The photo was mounted onto a rotating drum scanner with a strobe disk at one end.  As the drum rotated slowly, a photo-multiplier (which detects low light levels) scanned the image back and forth through a square hole and transmitted what it saw as a 0 for black or a 1 for white to create the world’s first digital image.

Mr. Kirsch had degrees from New York University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He worked as an engineer for five decades at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards.  According to a 2010 article in Science News, this work on pixels was the basis for satellite imagery, CT scans, Facebook, and virtual reality.  His work also was crucial to the Apollo moon landing and to space exploration, generally.

Kirk Hartung is a patent attorney and chair of the mechanical  and  electrical practice group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC.  For additional information please visit www.ipmvs.com or contact Kirk directly via email at kirk.hartung@ipmvs.com.

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