Chatham's Michael Tompsett Collects Engineering Award From Prince Charles

By: Tim Wood

Michael and Margaret Tompsett chat with Prince Charles after the ceremony. COURTESY PHOTO


CHATHAM – Although he was “a bit” disappointed not to meet Queen Elizabeth, Chatham resident Michael Tompsett did get to meet Prince Charles during a recent award ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Tompsett was one of four recipients of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which the native Brit was given for his contribution to digital imagine. Working at the AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1973, Tompsett took the world's first digital photograph, an image of his wife, Margaret, who also accompanied him to Buckingham Palace earlier this month.

The queen usually awards the trophies, but this year she was busy receiving four new ambassadors; Tompsett said when he arrived at the palace, gilded 17th century horse-drawn carriages which had transported the ambassadors were lined up,flanked by liveried coachmen.

Inside one of the palace's state apartments, with about 100 people in attendance, Prince Charles presented the award to Tompsett and two of the three other recipients who were present. Afterward, during what he said was an elegant reception with champagne and canapes, he was able to chat with the prince briefly. The royals are very good at small talk, he said.

“The palace is strictly apolitical,” said Tompsett, an electrical engineer by training. Just being there, however, “was quite an adventure.”

Later in the day the award recipients were treated to afternoon tea with the Lord Mayor of London in the crypt of the 800-year-old Guild Hall. That evening, they dined with Lord John Browne, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former CEO of British Petroleum.

Tompsett brought home to Chatham an elegant trophy, a shiny, geometric design by a 16-year-old, created using 3D printing technology by one of the companies that sponsored the award. The recipients also shared a one million pound award. Tompsett said he donated his share to two high schools and two colleges at Cambridge University attended by himself and his wife. The money will support extra-curricular programs and STEMM subjects – science, technology, engineering, math and medicine added in honor of his wife, who is a physician – especially for girls. Tompsett added that his former high school has a top robotics team which recently competed in China; most of the members of the team are girls, he said. The couple visited the schools last September.

“They're very, very good. They know their stuff, how to put these things together,” he said of the robotics team.

Tompsett, who is involved in a number of activities here in Chatham, said his work was built on previous innovations, and others refined the work of his team, especially in the area of integrated circuits, to develop the digital imaging technology that is ubiquitous today.