Connecting the World

Social media, low cost telephone calls, video conferencing with family and friends – these are three examples of how the internet allows people around the world to feel connected in a way that has never before been possible in history. And all of this technology is because of light! This page will contain links and resources that will let you understand how it is ultrashort light data pulses propagating in tiny optical fibers the width of a human hair that have created the modern communications infrastructure and the internet that we all use every day.

What are fiber optics?

Optical fibers are extremely thin, flexible, transparent fiber made of silica or plastic. These hair-like fibers transmit light signals from one end to the other, and over long distances when conjoined end-to-end. Most commonly used in telecommunications, the use of light in fiber optics has revolutionized the way humans interact in the 21st century.

Why do we use fiber optics?

Unlike wire cables, optical fibers permit transmission over long distances at high bandwidths. Fibers are also used because signals travel through them with less loss than in metal wires, and they are unaffected by electromagnetic interference.

Uses of fiber optics

Communication: We have optical fibers to thank for providing us the ability to use social media, texting, video-conferencing,the internet itself, and so many other forms of modern communication. When bundled as cables, the fibers allow for long-distance communication because light easily proliferates with little depletion.

Sensors: Optical fibers have many uses in remote sensing. They can be used as sensors to measure strain, temperature, pressure, and other qualities by modifying a fiber so that the property to measure modulates the intensity, phase, polarization, wavelength, or transit time of light in the fiber. Fiber optics sensing is most commonly found in security systems. By placing optical fibers along a boundary such as a fence or property line, a signal monitors disturbances and will trigger an alarm if an intrusion occurs.

Other: Fiber optics is used in many other lesser-known applications. For example, optical fibers can be used to transmit power using a photovoltaic cell to convert light into electricity. They are also used for decorative purposes in signs, art, toys, and artificial Christmas trees.

History of Fiber Optics - Charles Kao

(<br/>In 1965, the then young scientist Charles Kao doing an early experiment on optical fibers at the Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow, U.K.<br/>
In 1965, the then young scientist Charles Kao doing an early experiment on optical fibers at the Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow, U.K.

Charles K. Kao, also known as the “Father of Fiber Optics”, is highly regarded for the discovery of fiber optics as a telecommunication medium in the 1960s. Before his pioneering work, glass fibers were widely believed to be unsuitable as a conductor of information. Through his research efforts at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories (STL) in England, Kao and his team discovered that silica glass of high purity is an ideal material for long-range optical communication. Over the years, he has published more than 100 papers, been granted over 30 patents, and received numerous awards. In 2009, Charles Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”.

“The International Year of Light 2015 is a very exciting development. With such huge changes that optical fibers has made to lifestyles and well-being globally in these last fifty years, it is timely to celebrate all the consequences. My husband Charles Kao pushed for many of the same aims of the International Year of Light decades ago, and the timing is now ripe to celebrate his success and the success of the entire field.”

Charles’ wife, Mrs. Gwen Kao, speaks on IYL2015 and her husband’s success

For more information on Charles Kao’s contributions to optics and to learn about his background, view his biography.

"Ideas do not always come in a flash, but by diligent trial-and-error experiments that take time and thought."

Professor Kao