The Pioneer of Digital Imaging, Russell Kirsch, Dies


Russel Kirsch, considered the inventor of pixels and digital imaging, died at the age of 91 due to Alzheimer’s. The first digital image Kirsch acquired in 1957 is considered one of the 100 photographs that changed the world.

Russel Kirsch, the inventor of pixel technology, which is indispensable for most of the screen technologies we use today, died at the age of 91. Born in 1929 to a family of Jewish origin immigrants from Russia and Hungary, Kirsch studied at New York University, Harvard University and MIT before his work that would change the world. Following the information he gained here, the scientist who worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology for 50 years was considered the inventor of digital image.

In his early years, working with computers of huge size, Kirsch was initially working on computers to simulate human mind and perception. With the digital image scanner developed as a result of his studies in 1957, he performed digital scans by following the changes on the photographs.

The first photograph Kirsch scanned in these studies was his three-month-old son Walden Kirsch. Measuring 5 cm x 5 cm, the scan produced a resolution of 176 x 176 pixels. Kirsch’s work, which is a very simple technology compared to today’s digital scans, contained a total of 30,976 pixels in the photograph and offered 1 bit per pixel as a bit depth.

How the system works was explained

It was explained in detail how the image was obtained, which was archived by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In the scanner developed by Kirsch to obtain the digital image; An oversized drum, another rotating drum mounted on it, and a photomultiplier were used. With this design, Kirsch succeeded in separating the photograph point by point, in other words creating pixels.

At first, the scanner, which could only obtain black and white colors, started to produce gray color after Kirsch and his team scanned the image multiple times at different thresholds and superimposed these scans. These studies led to the creation of the method, algorithm and storage techniques we use in digital imaging and take their current form.

One of 100 Photos That Changed the World

Kirsch’s photo of his son, which he acquired based on pixels, was included in the list of “100 Photographs That Changed the World” by Life World in 2003 due to the importance it gave to digital photography. The photograph continues to be exhibited at the Portland Art Museum today.

Offering one of the important building blocks of the digital world, Kirsch succumbed to Alzheimer’s, which he struggled for many years, and died on August 11 at the age of 91 at his home in Portland. We thank him for all the beauties he has brought to the whole world.


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