By Patricia Daukantas
To celebrate Charles Kao’s share of the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics for his pioneering fiber optics work, the FiO/LS conference brought together industrial and academic researchers for a special symposium on optical communications.
OSA’s 1995 president, Tingye Li, kicked off the conference with a historical overview of the field that, as a longtime researcher at AT&T/Bell Laboratories (U.S.A.), he was well-positioned to witness and influence.
Noting that Kao’s Nobel came exactly 100 years after Guglielmo Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun won it for “wireless telegraphy,” Li said that the award to Kao fulfilled the original intent of the prize to recognize innovations that benefit human society. He listed Kao’s three great innovations:
- Conceptualizing optical fiber communications by proposing glass fibers as a viable data-transmitting medium;
- Having the insight that silica would be the low-loss medium of choice for future communications and rigorously verifying that experimentally, showing his understanding of the fundamental physics behind the application; and
- Traveling around the world to spread his “gospel” of optical communications until the industry began to take it seriously.
Li noted the characteristic engineering language of Kao’s first paper on the subject in 1966. He wrote that silica fibers may have a “large information capacity,” when the correct adjectival phrase might have turned out to be “astronomically large.” After all, the capacity of optical fiber systems has multiplied 1-million-fold since Corning Inc. developed the first truly low-loss fiber in 1970 and the telecom industry started its early field trials shortly thereafter.
Other symposium speakers included Peter Schultz of Corning (U.S.A.), David Payne of the University of Southampton (England) and Hiroshi Takahashi of NTT Photonics Laboratories (Japan). (Shultz recently wrote an article for OPN about the development of the first low-loss optical fibers.)
Current OSA director-at-large Neal Bergano of Tyco Electronics (U.S.A.) capped off the symposium by describing the types of cable armor, repeaters and large ships that go into building the planet’s undersea communications infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of kilometers of optical cables now stretch across ocean and sea floors, either as direct links or branch-and-trunk networks. They certainly transmit digital data for far less cost than the $5 per word for telegrams sent via the first permanent transatlantic telegraphic cable in the late 1860s.
More FiO/LS Coverage
Today (Thursday) is the final day of the conference, with a number of invited talks on intriguing topics.
I haven’t forgotten the OSA Student Chapter members whose competition I photographed -- watch for coverage in an upcoming blog post. Also, I wrote about OSA Fellow Michal Lipson’s talk at the MWOSA gathering in OPN’s Bright Futures Blog.
Fiber optics, FiO/LS, Frontiers in Optics, Optics history, OSA