Russell Kirsch, inventor of the pixel, dies at 91

The SEAC computer
(Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Russell Kirsch, the computer scientist credited with inventing the pixel, has died age 91. Kirsch is attributed with inventing the pixel in 1957, many years before modern computers capable of using the technology as we know it today existed. With it he reproduced an image of his son, Walden Kirsch, as an infant—the first ever digital image.

Born in 1929, Kirsch went on to study at Harvard and MIT before working at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology). He joined the team responsible for SEAC, the first store-program computer in the United States.

In 1957, he would create a small black and white digital image, just 2-inches by 2-inches, of his son, made up of a 176 x 176 pixel array (via Oregon Live). The first of its kind, Kirsch believed that a computer would require some form of input device with which a computer could translate an image into something suitable for storage.

The scanner used a rotating drum and a photomultiplier to sense reflections from a small image mounted on the drum. A mask interposed between the picture and the photomultiplier tessellated the image into discrete pixels," information from the NIST museum's now-defunct virtual museum says.

You may recognise his son's name, Walden Kirsch, as he works at Intel in Oregon, and is credited for a great deal of images and stories from Intel across the web. Even if you don't recognise his infant visage.

The first digital image: Walden Kirsch as an infant

(Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Yet even the inventor of the pixel, an invention of monumental importance, has his misgivings about how the technology came to exist in its current form. Kirsch is credited with saying that square pixels were a bad idea to begin with: "I started out with a bad idea, and that bad idea survived," Kirsch said (via Oregon Live).

Russell Kirsch is survived by his wife, Joan, and children, Walden, Peter, Lindsey, and Kara.

Jacob Ridley
Senior Hardware Editor

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog from his hometown in Wales in 2017. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, where he would later win command of the kit cupboard as hardware editor. Nowadays, as senior hardware editor at PC Gamer, he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industry. When he's not writing about GPUs and CPUs, however, you'll find him trying to get as far away from the modern world as possible by wild camping.