THIS year will be one of the most important Essex has ever seen when it comes to celebrating our county’s spirit of innovation.

When Essex 2020 - a year of science and creativity was officially launched, the setting for the opening event couldn’t have been more fitting.

The host venue was Teledyne e2v in Chelmsford, a company quite literally out of this world with its achievements and yet one which many Essex residents may be unaware even exists.

It’s thanks to technology invented at Teledyne in 1972 that the first digital colour photograph was printed by Michael Francis Tompsett in America. It was a picture of his wife and made the cover of Electronics Magazine.

Today Teledyne e2v is renowned as the leading supplier of Charge-Coupled Devices (CCDs) for Space science. To put it simply, pretty much every digital space image you’ve seen has most likely been taken using image sensors designed and made at Teledyne right here in Essex.

The CCDs are made at the high-tech Teledyne wafer fab, a semi-conductor processing facility which turns silicon wafers into integrated circuits.

They are capable of taking images of space from many of the world’s greatest telescopes. On the flip side, they also take images of the Earth from space.

A company spokesman said: “We have made customised equipment for ground-breaking programmes, including NASA and European Space Agency missions, including the Hubble Telescope, Airbus, Boeing, the US Patriot air and missile defence system and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

“Our sensors are on many of the Earth observation satellites and we also took the first high resolution images of Pluto on the NASA new Horizons mission.”

As well as helping to give astronomers insights to the icy mountains and flowing ice of Pluto, Teledyne e2v provided the New Horizons probe with two specialist image sensors for its daring flyby of the space rock Ultima Thule.

When the mission swept past the 30km wide object on New Year’s Day 2019, it made history as the most distant ever visit to a Solar System body – at some 6.5 billion km from Earth.

Basildon Standard:

New Horizons travelled at 33,000 miles per hour, and because the Kuiper Belt (the region of space it was exploring in the outer solar system) does not reflect a lot of light, the image sensors were designed by Teledyne scientists and engineers to be extremely sensitive and to work perfectly during its short flybys.

Teledyne technology has been all over space so far.

Dr Trevor Cross, group chief technology officer for Teledyne e2v , who is leading the company’s growing expansion into quantum technology, added: “We have sent image sensors to every single planet in the solar system.”

Teledyne is also leading the way in delivering more down to earth - and often life saving- solutions.

Among the technologies created at the plant headquarters which spans 22 acres in Waterhouse Lane, Chelmsford, are those pivotal to medical and life sciences such as the production of magnetrons for radiotherapy equipment used in hospitals across the globe.

Though its Optical Coherence Tomography Imaging technology, Teledyne e2v is also enabling wide 3D images to help look for retinal and eye disease as well as skin cancer.

Its scientific designs also contributes to understanding climate chance by helping to predict droughts, earthquakes and floods.

This January marks the 50th anniversary of the CCD - the cornerstone of Teledyne’s success and a device hailed as truly transforming the understanding of physics and life sciences by enriching our lives through digital photography.

So what are digital imaging CCDs in a nutshell? Put simply, they are super sensitive sensors and the only technology capable of ‘seeing’ a single photon that has taken three billion years to reach a satellite,

Willard Boyle and George E Smith invented the CCD in 1969 at AT&T Bell Labs in the USA.

The breakthrough would eventually win the pair the Nobel Prize for Physics.

With the publication of Boyle and Smith’s research in 1970, other scientists began experimenting with the technology on a range of applications.

Astronomers discovered that they could produce high-resolution images of distant objects, because CCDs offered a photosensitivity one hundred times greater than film.

Dr Miles Adcock president of space and quantum at Teledyne e2v, said: “It is incredible to think how the invention of the CCD 50 years ago would lead to not only a multi-billion dollar a year imaging industry but also that it enabled the understanding of the life-sciences we have today and the discovery of distant worlds.”

To find out more about Essex 2020, including the hundreds of events planned for the year and how you can get involved visit www. essex.2020.com and #Essex2020 on Twitter.