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Nobel Prize for Physics for optic fibre guru

Charles Kuen Kao awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for fibre optic breakthroughs


Charles Kuen Kao, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), has been awarded one half of the Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of fibre optics that has changed the lives of millions of people.


His invention led to the development of technology networks that carry voice, video and high-speed internet data around the world through calculating how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibres. With a fibre of purest glass it is now possible to transmit light signals over 100 kilometres, compared to only 20 metres for the fibres available in the mid 1960s.


He made this breakthrough whilst working at Standard Telephones and Cables laboratory in Essex in the 1960s. He realised that light loss could be reduced by removing impurities in the glass, instantly solving the problem of losing the signal over long distances.  Kao s enthusiasm inspired other researchers to share his vision of the future potential of fibre optics. The first ultrapure fibre was successfully fabricated just four years later, in 1970.


The other half of the Nobel Prize was jointly awarded to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith of Bell Laboratories, USA "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor".


The Nobel Assembly hailed Dr Kao’s "groundbreaking achievements" and described his work as "something that has really changed our lives". The three winners share a prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (£900,000).


Dr Kao, who was born in China, graduated from Woolwich Polytechnic in east London and completed his PhD in electrical engineering at the University of London.


Although aware of the huge changes brought about by his research, Dr Kao insisted he had not expected the award. "Fibre optics has changed the world of information so much in these last 40 years," he said.


Professor Kao s groundbreaking work on optical fibres was published by the Institution of Electrical Engineering (IEE) in 1966 and he was awarded the IEE s Faraday Medal in 1989.


Nigel Fine, Chief Executive of the IET said, “I am delighted that Dr Kao’s groundbreaking work has been honoured in this way.  His discoveries paved the way for fibre optic technology which today is used for almost all telephony and data communication.  Dr Kao is a worthy recipient of this award.”

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