The man who thought up communication using light passes away


Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on September 25, 2018  /  1 Comments

We rely on fiber-optic cables. The last mile may be wireless, but in the middle are the big pipes, dominated by fiber. The scientist responsible has passed away according to NYT.

“The word ‘visionary’ is overused, but I think in the case of Charles Kao, it’s entirely appropriate because he really did see a world that was connected, by light, using the medium of optical fiber,” said John Dudley, a researcher in fiber optics based in France and a former president of the European Physical Society. “And I think society today owes him a great deal for that work.”

In the early 1960s, light pulses carrying telephone and television signals could travel only about 20 meters, or about 65 feet, through glass fibers before nearly all the light dissipated. But by 1970, four years after Dr. Kao and the British engineer George Alfred Hockham published a landmark study on the subject, a group of researchers had produced an ultrapure optical fiber more than a half-mile long.

We thank him and his colleagues.

1 Comment


  1. Dr. Kao viewed fiber optics as, “Sand from centuries past; Send future voices fast.” Today nearly 300 undersea optical fiber cables spanning over 500,000 miles – being buried in the seabed – are the veins and arteries of global economy. They transmit $10 trillion worth of transactions every day, which is greater than the GDP of Japan, Germany, and Australia combined.

    Dr. Kao was diagnosed with Alzheimer in 2002, seven years before receiving the Nobel. His wife-cum-colleague Mrs. May W. Kao delivered the Nobel Lecture on her husband’s behalf. There she eloquently narrated her husband’s works and glimpses of their life. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2009/kao/lecture/

    The world remains forever indebted to this visionary.