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"Father of Fiber Optics" Wins Nobel Prize 74

alphadogg writes "Charles Kao, whose work in the 1960s laid the foundation for today's long-distance fiber-optic networks, has won a share of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics (PDF). Kao, sometimes referred to as the 'father of fiber-optic communications,' was formally honored by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden 'for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication.' Kao's breakthrough discovery in 1966 was to determine how to transmit light over long distances using ultrapure optical glass fibers. This would extend the distance of such transmissions to 62 miles vs. the mere 65 feet allowed under previous technology held back by impurities. The first ultrapure fiber was created in 1970."
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"Father of Fiber Optics" Wins Nobel Prize

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  • First Post (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:18AM (#29657539)

    At least it would have been if I had a fiber optic network.

  • by viking099 ( 70446 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:19AM (#29657555)

    These guys [] also got the Nobel prize this year for their work on the CCD. That's worth a mention too, I think!

    • We talked about the nobel for work on telomeres yesterday []. Maybe slashdot editors have decided to string the nobel topics out. Just one a day, otherwise we'll get too excited.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Umm, the Nobel prizes are not all announced at the same time. The Medicine prize was announced yesterday. The Physics prize was announced today.
    • OK then.
      *claps hands*.

    • by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @01:10PM (#29659179)

      Seriously. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have the glut of amateur porn that's available to us today.

      God bless you, sirs.

    • Have you noticed how Nobel prizes are going back to inventions done in the 60's, 70's? Maybe they wanna catch these people while they are alive. Or maybe not that much truly groundbreaking and noteworthy under the Sun since the turn of the millenium?
      • Have you noticed that, with very few exceptions, all Nobel prizes have been for work that is a few decades old? This isn't a new phenomenon, for example the 1943 Nobel in Physics was for research published in 1922. Oh, and it's not just stuff from the '60s and '70s, the Medicine prize was for work done in the '80s.

        The Nobel is for work that changed our understanding of the subject in a significant way. You can only accurately judge that a couple of decades after it was originally published. A new theor

    • George Smith is an alum of my school. Kind of a big deal here. They did good work, they almost single-handedly created an industry.

      Think about it. Without the invention of the CCD, we'd take pictures and have them developed. Now we can take thousands upon thousands of pictures on a single 'roll' and print them a few seconds after they're taken. I think it's safe to say that the CCD revolutionized photography, at least for amateurs.

  • 62 miles? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:20AM (#29657573)

    Come on guys. We are talking about Science here. Use the system used by any scientist and 95% of the world population. 100km!

    • by Jurily ( 900488 )


      The pdf uses SI, read that. And while we're off-topic, guess what Iceweasel does by default when it encounters a popup: it pops up a message telling me it blocked it. And when I disable it, it pops up another message telling me all about it.

    • You know, it really doesn't matter. It's not like you don't know how to convert the units if you need to convert them... and you probably don't need to know them anyway.

      But then, I guess if you ignored "problems" that aren't really problematic, you wouldn't have this beautiful outlet for self-righteous whining*.

      *The irony of saying this isn't lost on me, but I'm sick enough of seeing people fucking complain about which arbitrarily-defined system of measurement to use that I'm willing to make myself look a b

      • It's actually worse in this case because the numbers chosen (62 miles vs 100) give misleading precision. It's just the result of a reporter punching numbers in a calculator, but he did change the content.

        PS: I find it funny, albeit regrettable, that every time someone on Slashdot points out an inappropriate use of imperial measurements there is always a backlash of people who have to defend and justify them, trying to argue that measurements are all arbitrary and the systems are equally useful, when clearly

  • Why so long? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maxrate ( 886773 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:21AM (#29657581)
    (Zero sarcasim) - Why does it take them so long to officially honor him? It was clear fiber optics were being used like crazy in the 80's.
    • Re:Why so long? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:35AM (#29657773)

      It's a truism that you get your Nobel 20 to 30 years after the groundbreaking work that earned it. After all, they couldn't give it to you back then, 'cause back then it was going to the people who earned it 20 to 30 years before *that*.

      • by Nikker ( 749551 )

        How about if there was one year where there were multiple breakthroughs? Wouldn't that make a massive backlog? This is only slightly more important then the Academy Awards.
      • 20-30 != 43. The criticism is valid, this is an old (even by Nobel standards), really important piece of research that should have been recognized 10 years ago.

      • Nobel was known for explosives; however, his committee is known to move like molasses.

      • Re:Why so long? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @02:10PM (#29660257) Homepage Journal

        I imagine they also want some time to see if the discoveries prove to be truly useful in the long term. I'm sure there was plenty of neat stuff being done in the 60s/70s that was neat at the time but how much of it are we still using? (I know there's plenty, my point is there's also plenty that we aren't.) Also, they want to make sure they don't wind up giving the prize to the inventors of Thalidomide [] or anything.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Actually I am surprised at this win. Not that it wasn't great but Nobel's tend to go more theoretical work than this. Making very pure fibers seems more engineering than science to me.
      I do think this is a good choice but I think the reason it took so long was that really only now did the committee understand just how important that was. Heck Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce never got one and they where the fathers of the integrated circuit.

  • by AniVisual ( 1373773 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:22AM (#29657593)

    or so the comment in the article says

    "Father of Fiber Optics" is not Kao but Narinder Singh Kapany. [] [] I can`t believe news didn`t name him

    From one of the linked articles,

    1950s: In London, England, Indian physicist Narinder Kapany (1927â") and British physicist Harold Hopkins (1918â"1994) managed to send a simple picture down a light pipe made from thousands of glass fibers. After publishing many scientific papers, Kapany earned a reputation as the "father of fiber optics."

    1960s: Chinese-born US physicist Charles Kao (1933â") figured out how to make a very pure fiber-optic cable that can carry telephone signals over long distances.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bwohlgemuth ( 182897 )
      And don't forget what the British Post Office did back in the 1960s as well (which my stepfather was a part of). City of Light [] is a nice read about the history of Fiber Optics.
    • Read the technical discussion from the Nobel committee []. It was Kao who showed that purified glass fibers had the required properties for replacing and eventually replacing coaxial fibers. He didn't invent the concept of glass fibers or fiber waveguides (that actually goes back more than a hundred years); but before his work, few believed that they would ever be practical for telecommunications.
    • Maybe "Father of Long Range Fiber Optics" or "Father of Practical Fiber Optics"?

  • 62 miles in the 70's (Score:5, Interesting)

    by weirdcrashingnoises ( 1151951 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:22AM (#29657603) Journal

    That's pretty impressive. Anyone have a good link on what today's longest fiber's are capable of? I'm not talking about max distance with repeaters or anything. I'm talking about the max distance for a single fiber from beginning to end. Most of what Google gives is just information about the longest cables that presumably start and stop in many different locations/countries...

    • by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:28AM (#29657665)
      The equipment I work with can do about 90 miles. Say 7 dBm transmit, -30 dBm receive. If you use around 0.25 dBm attenuation per kilometer at 1550 nanometers, that'll get you to around 150 km.

      This is at 2.5 Gbps.

      I don't know if that's a lot or not, but that's around where we max out.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Anyone have a good link on what today's longest fiber's are capable of?

      When I posted this I was thinking in my head "distance" but i failed to mention that.

      Other capabilities might be interesting as well, such as max bandwidth for a single optic cable, ect...

      • by grumling ( 94709 )

        We run 40Gbps rings in a metro area network. That's one wavelength. There's also a 10Gbps wavelength and several 1Gbps rings as well. We still have 62 wavelengths (theoretically, although maybe not supported by our equipment) available. []

        AM fiber is capable of sending all RF spectrum from 50MHz to 870MHz over one fiber. Next generation transmitters and receivers will run up to 1GHz or more.

    • There are amplifying fibers that theoreticaly don't have an upper bound on the distance they can carry digital signals without corruption. But I don't know about any on the field application of them.
      • by Kz ( 4332 )

        that's what repeaters are made of.

        that, and a laser to pump the energy needed for amplification, a power supply for the laser, (long!) wires for the power supply....

      • No, no, optical repeaters are deployed reasonably often- I used to work for a company that made them. They're not quite as good in some ways as repeaters that turn the signal back into electricity and then back into light again, because they don't retime the signal, so if you go far enough down the fibre the bits in the signal sort of blur together (in several various ways). You can get around that though by lowering the data rate, so I don't think there's an upper limit on distance with pure optical paths.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @11:52AM (#29658023) Journal
    Transmission through Purity, Purity through Physics!
      • Curious question, actually. Math is definitely purer; but, unlike all the previous steps, physics -> math is where you lose empirical evidence entirely. It isn't obvious that you'll be able to infer which of the internally consistent mathematical structures the world is actually operating under(if indeed it is operating under one) without looking at it at some point. In all the previous cases you could, in principle at least, actually infer one from the other. With math, you could likely get physics as o
  • by Terje Mathisen ( 128806 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:11PM (#29658271)

    I did my MSEE thesis in 1981, working on mono-mode optical fibers. This was still pretty cutting edge at the time, but the first semi-automatic splicing units had started to arrive.

    The most fascinating feature of very pure optical fibers is that they have two minima not too far apart:

    At around 1200 nm the frequency dispersion is very close to zero, which means that a single pulse traveling along the fiber will suffer minimum smearing, which maximizes the possible bandwidth.

    At around 1500 nm the optical damping (i.e. sum of scattering & absorption) has a minimum, which means that by using this frequency you can maximize the distance between repeaters.

    Anyway, it took about 20 years (i.e. around 2001) before mono-mode fibers become standard in all new installations here in Norway, it seems like this is the normal time to go from lab prototypes to SOP.


  • He forgot to patent the idea of "transmitting electromagnetic signal across very long distances over cylindrically shaped medium". Otherwise he could have just given up physics and collected the royalty, forgetting about this petty Nobel Prize.
  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @01:28PM (#29659529)

    If this goes on, in a few years they'll be giving hundredth of the prize...
    Why not go back to the days where the prize was given to a single person that embodied a change?

    And maybe something modern as well instead of some 50 years old stuff...

  • by Sans_A_Cause ( 446229 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @02:38PM (#29660759)

    I'm pretty sure I heard on Art Bell that fiber optics weren't invented on Earth. They were discovered in the Roswell crash. Kao should return this prize.

  • Well done, and thank you.
  • What's the limiting factor here?
    Why not 63 or 64 miles? or 58?
    Something to do with the speed of light?
    • Because 100km is nice round number that lose its meaning when converted to outdated units.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
      The quality of the cylinder. With a fibre-optic link, you have a tube of glass. You put a photon in one end, it travels along, and then it comes out the other end. If it is perfectly straight and you aim perfectly, then the photon travels straight through the glass. In this case, you could just use a laser and skip the whole glass thing. If you aim slightly off centre, or the path is curved, then the photon will hit the inside wall and, using the power of total internal reflection, bounce back. It may

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