- Computer scientist and pixel inventor, Russel Kirsch died at the age of 91 in Portland.
- He is known for scanning the first digital photograph back in 1957.
- Kirsch developed a method to smooth out images by using pixels with variable shapes instead of the squares.
Russel Kirsch who invented the pixel in 1957 died at the age of 91 at his home in Portland, Oregon. Pixels are digital dots used to display photos, videos, and more on phone and computer screens.
Back in 1957, Kirsch created a small, 2-by-2 inches black-and-white digital image of his 3-month-old son, Walden. That was among the first images ever scanned into a computer, using a device created by his research team at the US National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institutes of Science and Technology), news agency AP noted.
His work paved the way for satellite imagery, CT scans, virtual reality, and Facebook, the Wired cited a 2010 article about Kirsch. That first square image, that article said, measured a mere 176 pixels on a side — just shy of 31,000 pixels in total. Today, the digital camera on the iPhone 11 can capture roughly 12 million pixels per image.
What was unique about the pixels was that they were square. "Squares was the logical thing to do," Kirsch told the magazine in 2010. "Of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility but we used squares. It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since."
The images, however, looked blocky or jagged and that is where the term 'pixelated' came from.
Kirsch later developed a method to smooth out images by using pixels with variable shapes instead of the squares. Initially, the images were binary, capturing only black or white, but Kirsch and his team discovered that by scanning the image multiple times at different thresholds they could create a grayscale image by stacking multiple scans, as per DPreview.
This technology allowed Kirsch and his team to develop algorithms that laid the foundations for image processing and image pattern recognition. Kirsch's invention also helped NASA with its earliest space explorations, including the Apollo Moon landings.
Born in Manhattan in 1929, Kirsch was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Hungary. He was educated at the Bronx High School of Science, New York University, Harvard and MIT and worked for five decades as a research scientist at the US National Bureau of Standards. In 1951, while still in school, Kirsch joined the National Bureau of Standards as a member of the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) team, which was in charge of handling the US's first programmable computer.
Russell Kirsch is survived by his wife of 65 years, Joan, by children Walden, Peter, Lindsey and Kara, and by four grandchildren.