National Inventors Hall of Fame Inducts Two Former Columbia Faculty Members

May 03, 2011

Two former members of the Columbia EE department faculty, Eric Fossum and Michael Pupin, have been recognized in this year's National Inventors Hall of Fame induction as "legendary inventors".

After graduating from Yale in 1984, Eric Fossum was a professor in Columbia's EE department until he left to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in 1990. At JPL, he invented the Active Pixel Sensor CMOS image sensor. Instead of using a custom semiconductor purely for detecting light, the CMOS image sensor used a conventional CMOS process, which then permitted a single chip to integrate both the sensor pixels and the active circuitry needed to capture and process the image. Fossum's startup, Photobit, was purchased by semiconductor manufacturer Micron in 2001, and later became Aptina Imaging Corp. Today, thanks to their compact size and great power efficiency,active sensor CMOS image sensors account for the vast majority of camera-phones and webcams. Fossum is currently a professor at Dartmouth College.

Michael Pupin (1858-1935) was one of the founding professors of Columbia's EE department when it was created in 1889. Born in current-day Serbia, Pupin emigrated to New York at age 16, and went on to be a star athlete and scholar at Columbia College. After joining the faculty, among many other inventions, he developed a method for using loading coils to balance the transmission line characteristics of very long cables. This invention made possible the transatlantic telephony cables that revolutionized long-distance communications in the early 20th century. Pupin Hall (now the home of Columbia's Physics and Astronomy departments) is named in his honor.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame ( was founded in 1973 by the US Patent Office and the Intellectual Property Law Association to honor and recognize legendary inventors, and will have 460 inventors with its 2011 induction.