Born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Boyle served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II but did not see active service. He gained a BSc (1947), MSc (1948) and PhD (1950) from McGill University.
After receiving his doctorate Boyle spent one year at Canada's Radiation Lab and two years teaching physics at the Royal Military College of Canada. In 1953 Boyle joined Bell Labs where he invented the first continuously operating ruby laser with Don Nelson in 1962, and was named on the first patent for a semiconductor injection laser. He was made director of Space Science and Exploratory Studies at the Bell labs subsidiary Bellcomm in 1962, providing support for the Apollo space program and helping to select lunar landing sites. He returned to Bell Labs in 1964, working on the development of integrated circuits.
In 1969, Boyle and George E. Smith invented the Charge-coupled device (CCD), for which they have been joint recipients of the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1973, the 1974 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award, and the 2006 Charles Stark Draper Prize.
Boyle was Executive Director of Research for Bell Labs from 1975 to his retirement in 1979, when he moved back to Nova Scotia and served on the research council of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research and the Science Council of the Province of Nova Scotia.