And the Oscar goes to...a North Texas engineer!

Dr. Larry Hornbeck revolutionized the way we see movies, and his invention earned him an Oscar. Jason Wheeler has the story.

You'll find it inside Larry Hornbeck's rolling suitcase, wrapped in old pillowcases.

"There it is!" he says, pulling out an Oscar, the shiny statuette that represents Hollywood's ultimate happy ending.

We remind him that this is the award that makes careers of movie stars... the one that often leads to multi-million dollar deals.

"I think certainly, as an engineer, I am not going to derive that kind of benefit," he said modestly.

And that's perfectly okay with Hornbeck. This scientist at Dallas-based Texas Instruments is also a movie buff, and his bigger reward was solving a frustrating challenge, a problem perfectly illustrated in one of the more memorable scenes of the blockbuster "Titanic."

"She says, 'Jack, I'm flying!' And I said, 'So are ten-thousand specks of light… dirtiest film I've ever seen in my life!"

It wasn't the movie, but the actual film running through the projector that caught Hornbeck's attention, and he couldn't help but notice.

He has spent decades trying to find a way to keep films from fading, getting dusty, and becoming scratched with each successive showing. He eventually invented what's called the DLP chip. With the chip, those film problems are eliminated.

"That never happens, and that's what the Academy has recognized here," Hornbeck said.

Working with a team of thousands and hundreds of millions of dollars invested by Texas Instruments, Dr. Hornbeck truly was able to turn science into an art. Inside each chip are 8.8 million microscopic mirrors; each directs or blocks light up to 5,000 times per second.

Three DLP chips inside a projector create consistently sharp high definition moving pictures that have replaced film reels in recent years.

Hornbeck remembers that the technology first premiered June 19, 1999 on just a few screens for "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace."

Ten years later, the technological marvel "Avatar" helped make DLP the industry standard. The TI technology is now featured on eight of every 10 movie screens, making Dr. Hornbeck kind of a Hollywood legend now. Though he admits the early ceremony for the scientific and technical Oscars wasn't quite the star-studded affair we see on Oscar's big Sunday night show.

"No; I felt like a nerd techie getting an award," he said. But he knows it's a pretty darn good award to have.

"It is recognition that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Hornbeck said.

His invention has applications far beyond the projection booth at the movie theater. The technology is also being used to put projectors into consumer tablets, cameras, and even smartphones.

It also has medical implications. The chips, incorporated in projectors and aimed at the skin, can show where veins are located under the skin.

Additionally, the technology is being utilized for interactive advertising displays and even the analyzation of food products to see if they contain specific allergens.


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