Russell Kirsch, inventor of the pixel, dead at 91

Renowned computer scientist Russel Kirsch, best known as the inventor of the digital imaging pixel, died on Tuesday, August 11. 

Kirsch died in his home in Portland, Oregon, from a form of Alzheimer’s disease, according to The Oregonian. He was 91 years old. 

Kirsch changed the landscape of digital imaging as we know it with the invention of the pixel by asking, “What would happen if computers could look at pictures?” In 1957, he and his colleagues at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) used the first image scanner, the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer, to take a digital photograph of his three-month-old son. 

NIST

The photograph was a simple black-and-white, 5 x 5 cm square photo with a resolution of 176 by 176 pixels. What would later come to be known as the very first scanned image was included in “100 Photographs that Changed The World” in Life Magazine in 2003. 

Because of Kirsch’s digital imaging work, we now have technologies like CAT scans and satellite images. He even has a mathematical algorithm named after him, the Kirsch Operator, which is used to detect edges in images. 

“Everything that I did was in the public domain,” Kirsch told The Oregonian in a 2007 interview. “It’s because of me that Bill Gates is who Bill Gates is now.”

Kirsch is survived by his wife of 65 years, Joan, his four children Walden, Peter, Lindsey, and Kara, and four grandchildren, Nathan, Noah, Gus, and Gabrielle. 

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