Prof. Eric Fossum's work is proof of the value of the federal role in science research.(Photo: Dartmouth/Robert Gill)

The "Father of the Selfie" Lives Right Here in the Upper Valley


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Lee Michaelides

Next time you take a selfie, thank Dartmouth professor Eric Fossum and the federal government.  Fossum began work on what is now called a CMOS image sensor for NASA 35 years ago. Today, descendants of those early space cameras are standard on every smart phone. The invention is so important that later this year Fossum will be awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for engineering.  That anecdote, told to an audience at the Montshire Museum's Community Celebration of Science by Joe Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, illustrated the larger point the dean wanted to make: Federal investments in science pay dividends over decades. 

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"This federal funding is important not just for basic science but for supporting the development of new technologies that enable the invention of devices that make life better for all of us," said Helble.

The Trump administration's proposal to cut funding for basic science will cost the nation its leadership role in science and technology, he added. Although he didn't say so in as many words, the meaning of Helble's story about Eric Fossum was clear. Today's scientific research can change the future in ways we can't begin to imagine. 

"Those of us who work in the science and engineering community are concerned that as these deep cuts occur in federal support for science we are going to have to completely rethink how technology is developed. It will hamper our ability to improve technologies that improve the human condition," said Helble.

Those cuts will also hurt the Upper Valley economy. Eighty percent of the $22.6 million in research support at the Thayer School comes from federal sources. As a result a third of the tenured professors at the Thayer School have started companies,  said Helble. "Most, if not all of them, are based in here in the Upper Valley. Most, if not all of them, would not have been possible without federal support."

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