James Fergason, the self-described "first guy who saw what [liquid crystal displays] were really good for," has been given a US$500,000 award for a lifetime of inventions that have advanced computer, medical and other industries.

"James Fergason's inventions are directly responsible for the creation of a multi-billion dollar liquid crystal display industry that employs millions of people around the world," said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which gives the annual award.

Fergason, now in his 70s, started working with liquid crystals back in the 1950s during work with temperature-measuring devices. He says the optical activity of liquid crystals appealed to him and he began considering other applications for them.

Fergason holds more than 130 U.S. patents and 500-plus foreign ones. He made his key discoveries in the liquid crystals field while a member of an institute at Kent State University. He later went on to start companies of his own, including International Liquid Crystal. He has also contributed to the general field of innovation by consulting with organisations such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.