Remembering Charles K. Kao the Pioneer of Fiber Optic in Telecommunication

Courtesy of UK in Sweden (Flickr CC0)

Charles K. Kao was a visionary who pioneered the fiber optic in telecommunication used by the internet today. He was an electrical engineer and Nobel prize-winning physicist.

He passed away on Sept. 23, 2018, and was the subject of a recent Google Doodle illustration created in commemoration of his birthday. He would have been 88.

Kao was born in Shanghai on Nov. 4, 1933, he learned French and English while studying Chinese classic texts. His family moved to British Hong Kong in 1948. This afforded him opportunities to study Electrical Engineering in England.

When Kao was at the University of London pursuing his Ph.D., he worked at Standard Telephone and Cables (STC) research lab in Harlow, Essex, where he experimented with optical fibers strands designed from thin glass with his colleagues.

Courtesy of Nick Harris (Flickr CC0)

Fiber optics work like metal wires, sending binary code and turning a laser on and off to match data being sent, making it a promising technology for engineers and scientists.

This technology was used for lighting and the transmission of images, but many found fiber to be unreliable for high-speed data transmission. But, Kao and his colleagues at STC found that imperfections in the materials used were some of the reasons for fiber optic signals degradation.

Through considerable experimentation, they found that silica glass has a high purity to carry signals for miles, and this standard for fiber optics is used today. From then on, companies have used ultrapure glass to deliver laser light at longer distances.

The General Telephone and Electronics telecom provider in California made history in 1977, by routing telephone calls through a fiber-optic network. Kao looked ahead and directed his research of fiber optics through an undersea cable to better connect the world. And, in 1988, TAT-8 ran across the Atlantic Ocean connecting Europe and North America.

The use of fiber optics grew exponentially with the advent of the internet, connecting continents with networks that internet providers use.

Kao was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004. He and his wife Gwen Kao established the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease Limited in Hong Kong in 2010 to foster awareness about the disease.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware


9To5 Google: Google Doodle pays tribute to Charles K. Kao, the ‘father of fiber optics;’ Kyle Bradshaw
CNET: Google Doodle celebrates ‘father of fiber optics’ Charles K. Kao; by Steven Musil

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of UK in Sweden’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Nick Harris’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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