Eric Fossum

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Eric Fossum
Alma mater

Eric R. Fossum (born October 17, 1957) is an American physicist and engineer known for developing the CMOS image sensor.[1] He is currently a professor at Thayer School of Engineering in Dartmouth College.

Early years and education[edit]

Fossum was born and raised in Simsbury, Connecticut and attended public school there. He also spent Saturdays at the Talcott Mountain Science Center in Avon CT which he credits for his lifelong interest in science, engineering and mentoring students. He received his B.S. in engineering from Trinity College in 1979 and his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Yale University in 1984.

Academic career[edit]

Eric R. Fossum was a member of the Electrical Engineering faculty at Columbia University from 1984 to 1990. At Columbia University, he and his students performed research on CCD focal-plane image processing and high speed III-V CCDs. In 1990, Dr. Fossum joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and managed JPL’s image sensor and focal-plane technology research and advanced development.

In 2007 he sponsored, in part, the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Robot Contest,[2] aimed at increasing innovation and invention in the world of robotics.

He joined the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth in 2010 where he teaches, performs research on the Quanta Image Sensor[3] with his graduate students, and coordinates the Ph.D. Innovation Program.[4]


While Fossum was at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invoked a plan of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" for NASA Space Science missions. One of the instrument goals was to miniaturize charge-coupled device (CCD) camera systems onboard interplanetary spacecraft. In response, throughout the early 1990s, Fossum developed a new CMOS active-pixel sensor (APS) with intra-pixel charge transfer camera-on-a-chip technology, now just called the CMOS Image Sensor or CIS[5][6]

He developed a CMOS sensor with his team at JPL in 1993. The same year, he published an extensive paper broadly defining the active-pixel sensor (APS) and giving a historical overview of the technology. He largely credits the invention of APS technology to the Japanese companies Olympus and Toshiba during the mid-to-late 1980s, noting the former developed the vertical APS structure with NMOS transistors and the latter developed the lateral APS structure with PMOS transistors. His team at JPL were the first to fabricate a practical APS outside of Japan, while making several key improvements to APS technology. The JPL sensor used a lateral APS structure similar to the Toshiba sensor, but was fabricated with CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) transistors rather than PMOS transistors.[7] This made JPL's APS device the first CMOS sensor with intra-pixel charge transfer.[8]

In 1994, Fossum proposed an improvement to the CMOS sensor: the integration of the pinned photodiode (PPD). A CMOS sensor with PPD technology was first fabricated in 1995 by a joint JPL and Kodak team that included Fossum along with P.P.K. Lee, R.C. Gee, R.M. Guidash and T.H. Lee. Further refinements to the CMOS sensor with PPD technology between 1997 and 2003 led to CMOS sensors achieve imaging performance on par with CCD sensors, and later exceeding CCD sensors.[8]

As part of Goldin's directive to transfer space technology to the public sector whenever possible, Fossum led the CMOS APS development and subsequent transfer of the technology to US industry, including Eastman Kodak, AT&T Bell Labs, National Semiconductor and others. Despite initial skepticism by entrenched CCD manufacturers, the CMOS image sensor technology is now used in almost all cell-phone cameras, many medical applications such as capsule endoscopy and dental x-ray systems, scientific imaging, automotive safety systems, DSLR digital cameras and many other applications. Over 6 billion cameras are manufactured each year using CMOS technology.[9]


In 1995, frustrated by the slow pace of the technology's adoption, he and then-wife Dr. Sabrina Kemeny co-founded Photobit Corporation to commercialize the technology.[10] He joined as Chairman of the Board and Chief Scientist in 1996 and became CEO of Photobit Technology Corporation in 2000. In late 2001, Micron Technology Inc. acquired Photobit and Dr. Fossum was named a Senior Micron Fellow. He left Micron in 2003. In 2005, he joined SiWave Inc., a developer of MEMS technology for mobile phone handsets, as CEO. SiWave was renamed Siimpel and grew substantially before his departure in 2007. Siimpel was later acquired by Tessera.

In 1986 he founded the IEEE Workshop on CCDS, now known as the International Image Sensor Workshop (IISW). He co-founded and was the first President of the International Image Sensor Society (IISS)[11] which operates the IISW.

Achievements and awards[edit]

Eric R. Fossum has published over 300 technical papers,[12] and holds more than 170 U.S. patents.[13] He is a Fellow member of the IEEE. He has been primary thesis adviser to a number of graduated Ph.D.s. He has received several prizes and honors including:


  1. ^ B. Stern, Inventors at Work, Apress 2012.
  2. ^ "Trinity Fire Fighting Robot Contest -Event Sponsors".
  3. ^ Fossum, E. R. (1 September 2013). "Modeling the Performance of Single-Bit and Multi-Bit Quanta Image Sensors". IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society. 1 (9): 166–174. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/JEDS.2013.2284054. S2CID 14510385.
  4. ^ Engineering, Thayer School of. "PhD Innovation Program - Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth".
  5. ^ B. Stern, Inventors at Work, Apress 2012.
  6. ^ e.g. US Patents 5,471,515 and 5,841,126
  7. ^ Fossum, Eric R. (12 July 1993). Blouke, Morley M. (ed.). "Active pixel sensors: are CCDs dinosaurs?". SPIE Proceedings Vol. 1900: Charge-Coupled Devices and Solid State Optical Sensors III. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 1900: 2–14. Bibcode:1993SPIE.1900....2F. CiteSeerX doi:10.1117/12.148585. S2CID 10556755.
  8. ^ a b Fossum, Eric R.; Hondongwa, D. B. (2014). "A Review of the Pinned Photodiode for CCD and CMOS Image Sensors". IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society. 2 (3): 33–43. doi:10.1109/JEDS.2014.2306412.
  9. ^ "Engineering alum Eric Fossum wins Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering". YaleNews. January 29, 2018. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  10. ^ Fossum, Eric R. (18 December 2013). "Camera-On-A-Chip: Technology Transfer from Saturn to Your Cell Phone". Technology & Innovation. 15 (3): 197–209. doi:10.3727/194982413X13790020921744.
  11. ^ "International Image Sensor Society".
  12. ^ See Google Scholar
  13. ^ USPTO Search 2020
  14. ^ "PSA Progress Medal".
  15. ^ "Error - RPS".
  16. ^ "Inductee Detail - National Inventors Hall of Fame".
  17. ^ "National Academy of Inventors".
  18. ^ "National Academy of Engineering Elects 69 Members And 11 Foreign Associates".
  19. ^ Webmaster. "Six Honorary Degrees to be Awarded at Commencement".
  20. ^ "2017 QEPrize Winners - Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering".
  21. ^ "Edwin H. Land Medal". The Optical Society.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links[edit]