Doctor of Science
October 2009: The University of Rochester has conferred an honorary doctorate on Steven Sasson, who invented the first digital camera while working for Eastman Kodak Company. Sasson developed the prototype in Rochester in 1975, as a 25-year-old engineer fresh out of college, and received a patent for it in 1978, along with his then-supervisor Gareth Lloyd. Sasson went on to spend 35 years working for Kodak before retiring in February.
“The age of consumer film photography was born in Rochester, at Kodak,” said University President Joel Seligman. “So it is particularly satisfying that this new era of digital imaging was also created at Kodak, through the innovation and foresight of Steve Sasson and his colleagues. We are proud to recognize this important achievement, and we look forward to the ever-improving technologies that will continue to develop out of this work in the decades to come.”
At the time of the invention, when the industry was centered on film, it would have been difficult for anyone to foresee a world in which Sasson’s large, unwieldy, low-resolution prototype would transform into a ubiquitous staple for households around the globe, but it has done just that.
“The entire multi-billion-dollar digital imaging industry traces quite directly back to this original innovation right here at Kodak,” said professor and former engineering dean Kevin Parker. “Steve knew that making this a point-and-click reality was 10 to 20 years in the future, but he and his colleagues saw the potential. Much of what we do in research universities today, from microscopic imaging to telescopic imaging, stems from Steve’s original work.”
University President Joel Seligman and Vice President Paul Burgett surprised Sasson with the degree at a banquet Saturday, during the PhotoHistory XIV symposium – a gathering of historians, collectors, photo experts, and dealers from around the world that is held every three years.
The 59-year-old Sasson was at the symposium to present the keynote address on his history-shaping invention. He brought the first prototype with him, an eight-pound contraption that looks like a sky-blue metal tissue box stacked on top of a grey metal tissue box and has a resolution of .01 megapixels (more than 100 times less than low-cost cell phone cameras today).
Sasson was born in Brooklyn, NY, and showed a knack for electronics innovation early on. As a boy, he would gather discarded TV and radio parts and use them to construct stereos, transmitters, and radio receivers, he said.
Sasson went to work for Kodak after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1973 as an electrical engineer. In 2001, the company awarded him the prestigious Eastman Award, the company’s highest award for innovation. Since then, he has received widespread recognition for his work, including being inducted into the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame, and earning The Economist Magazine’s 2009 Innovation Award in the category of Consumer Products and Services.
He joins recent University of Rochester honorary degree recipients Gen. Colin Powell, jazz legend Dave Brubeck, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and many other distinguished awardees from the last century and a half.