Digital Camera Pioneer Steven Sasson To Receive Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 2011 Davies Medal
Electrical Engineer To Receive Highest Honor
Awarded to an Alumnus of the Rensselaer School of
Renowned electrical engineer and digital camera inventor
Steven Sasson, Class of 1972, will receive the prestigious Davies Medal for
Engineering Achievement from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
School of Engineering.
Rensselaer will honor Sasson during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m.
on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and
Interdisciplinary Studies auditorium. As part of the
celebration, Sasson will give a presentation titled “Disruptive
Innovation: The Story of the First Digital Camera.” The talk
will be followed by a reception, both of which are open to the
In his presentation, Sasson will draw from personal
experience as he shares how the first digital camera prototype
— which was eight pounds and about the size of a toaster — was
created and demonstrated in 1975 at the Eastman Kodak Company.
He will also discuss the many subsequent technical innovations
in the 1980s stemming from the prototype, as well as early
efforts in the 1990s to commercialize digital cameras. An
underlying theme of the talk is an exploration of the complex
dynamics between people and technology during a time of
disruptive innovation within an established corporate
“We are extremely proud to present Mr. Sasson with the
Davies Medal, the highest honor given to an alumnus of the
Rensselaer School of Engineering,” said
David Rosowsky, dean of the School of Engineering
at Rensselaer. “His pioneering invention revolutionized the way
we capture, store, and share photos and images, and ultimately
transformed the industry. Mr. Sasson is a true inspiration to
the entire Rensselaer community, and we are thankful to have
him among the global family of Rensselaer engineering
In honor of one of the Institute’s most accomplished,
active, and loyal alumni, Clarence E. Davies ’14, Rensselaer
established the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement in
1980 to recognize a Rensselaer alumnus with a distinguished
career of engineering achievement, public service, and
technical and managerial accomplishments.
The Davies Medal award at Rensselaer is funded by an
endowment from Mr.
and Mrs. J. Erik Jonsson ’22.
On Friday, Sept. 23, Sasson will be among a group of
Rensselaer graduates to be inducted into the university’s
Alumni Hall of Fame. For more information on the ceremony,
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Sasson showed a knack for
electronics throughout childhood and in high school. He went on
to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from
Rensselaer in 1972, and stayed at the Institute to complete his
master’s degree in electrical engineering.
After graduating, Sasson joined the Eastman Kodak Company as
an electrical engineer. At Kodak, he engaged in a number of
early digital imaging projects. Among these was the design and
construction of the first digital still camera and playback
system in 1975. With a resolution of 0.01 megapixels, it
recorded black-and-white digital images to a magnetic cassette
tape. Using the prototype, Sasson took the first image in
December 1975 — it took 23 seconds to capture the shot. Sasson
was 25 years old.
He continued to work throughout the 1980s in the emerging
field of digital photography, and received more than 10 key
digital imaging patents. In 1989, he led the development of the
first prototype megapixel electronic digital camera utilizing
DCT compression that stored images to flash memory cards.
Development continued into the 1990s, when Sasson developed one
of the first photographic-quality thermal printing systems,
derivatives of which are still in use in self-service imaging
kiosks around the world today.
Outside the original patent granted in 1978, there was no
public disclose of Sasson’s work until 2001. During those
years, Kodak amassed more than 1,000 digital imaging patents.
Today, nearly all digital cameras rely on those inventions.
Before retiring in 2009, Sasson was a project manager in the
Intellectual Property Transactions group at Kodak.
On Oct. 15, 2010, the White House announced that Sasson was
one of six individuals who would receive the 2009 National
Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor for
technological achievement bestowed by the President of the
United States on America’s leading innovators.
For more information on the Davies Medal at Rensselaer,
including past winners, visit: http://eng.rpi.edu/davies/
Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161