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Russell Kirsch, creator of the pixel, has died aged 91

American computer scientist Russell Kirsch revolutionised digital images forever with his development of the pixel. 

Right before your very eyes lie tens of thousands of pixels. Perhaps even more. They make up the text and images you see, yet it’s something most of us don’t even think about. This digital creation may have never been fully realised without the genius efforts of Russell Kirsch. 

Sadly, Kirsch has just passed away at the age of 91. In celebration of his life, it’s time to take a closer look into the work of one of the world’s most influential developers.

Photos – NIST (Fair Use)

It all started in the 1950s when Kirsch worked for the NBS – now dubbed the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Computers were bigger than the kitchen sink back then, and Kirsch was working on the first programmable one, named SEAC. 

By 1957, Kirsch had become the father of an infant son and had been developing a drum scanner at work. Literally combining his work and home life, Kirsch was able to make a 2 by 2 inch black and white photo of his son: the first-ever digitally scanned image. The image was made up of a mere 31,000 pixels. In comparison, the latest iPhone captures images containing about 12 million pixels.

Still, you gotta start somewhere. 

 

A 2010 Science News Interview republished by Wired described that Kirsch’s digital discovery laid the groundwork for satellite imagery, CT scans, virtual reality, and Facebook. It really doesn’t get much more influential than that. Kirsch continued working on the pixel, using different types of shapes to eventually smooth over that blocky or ‘pixelated’ look. He passed away in his home in Portland, Oregan, but needless to say, his work lives on everywhere. 

Up next: ‘Negatives are something you can hold in your hand, pixels aren’t’: a chat with photographer Savvy V