Contributed by: C. David Chaffee, Chaffee Fiber Optics
The celebration began anew this morning for Charles Kao, the father of fiber optics. This is the first time OFC/NFOEC has had the opportunity to honor him since he won the 2009 Nobel prize in physics, an award he shared with two other physicists. To our industry, he is the man, the kingpin, the major domo, the chairman of the board. In short, he is all that and a bag of chips.
Charlie has been honored before. He was so distinguished on the 25th anniversary of the seminal paper he wrote to launch the industry "Dielectric-fibre surface waveguide for optical frequencies" in the United Kingdom in 1966. This was also an OFC, the one in Baltimore in 1991. In fairness, Charlie co-authored the paper with George Hockham. But he was always the driving force, the passionate philosopher king who was given the providential vision the rest of the world lacked.
OFC/NFOEC does many things well. But at the top of the list is conveying a sense history for the fiber optics industry and this strengthens the sense of overall purpose and mission. Much of that is manifested by celebrations and awards such as this. Charlie's award and recognition comes in large part because what flowed out of the paper.
That's because the things in the paper were on-target. Four years after he predicted a silica fiber could transmit commerciable levels of light with acceptable loss (below 20 decibels per kilometer), Corning made it happen through an extraordinary effort. The accompanying lasers and detectors also were fashioned to make it work.
While humble in nature, Charlie has remained committed to fiber optics. This came through in the times I had the opportunity to interview him, also at OFCs. Once in the early 1980s, I asked him if fiber optics would ever be used for undersea transmission. "The oceans will be littered with fiber," he responded. This was six years before TAT-8, the first trans-oceanic fiber network was to be commissioned.
Charlie also predicted that people would use all the broadband that they could get their hands on, and that the costs would come crashing down. This was before we had dial-up service. And more than a few scientists have speculated that it is more than coincidence that Charlie's decision to settle in China some years ago and the rise of Huawei as a major fiber optics powerhouse.
In honoring Charlie this morning, Bell Labs pioneer Tingye Li recall a quote in 2004 that Charlie had made: "If you ask me how long we will see fibers being used, it may be 1,000 years without a replacement."
That's quite a legacy.
2010-03 March, Fiber optics, Information technology, OFC/NFOEC, Optics history