Professor Charles Kao
Engineer and Inventor of Fibre Optics
He received L.M. Ericsson International Prize, Marconi International
Fellowship, Prince Philip Medal of the Royal Academy of Engineers*, and the
1999 Charles Stark Draper Prize**, the highest award for Engineering by the
National Academy of Engineering of USA.
*The Royal Academy of Engineering Medals
---- the Fellowship of Engineering Prince Philip Medal (solid gold)
1996, Dr Charles Kao CBE FRS FREng
Formerly Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong
"for his pioneering work which led to the invention of optical fibre and for his leadership in its engineering and commercial realisation; and for his distinguished contribution to higher education in Hong Kong".
In 1989 HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Senior Fellow of The Fellowship of Engineering, agreed to the commissioning of a gold medal to be "awarded periodically to an engineer of any nationality who has made an exceptional contribution to engineering as a whole through practice, management or education", to be known as The Fellowship of Engineering Prince Philip Medal.
One of the NAE's goals is to recognize the superior achievements of engineers. Accordingly, election to Academy membership is one of the highest honors an engineer can receive. Beyond this, the NAE presents four awards to honor extraordinary contributions to engineering and society. 1999 Recipients of the Charles Stark Draper Prize Charles K. Kao, Transtech Services Ltd.
Robert D. Maurer, Corning (retired)
John B. MacChesney, Lucent Technologies
"For the conception and invention of optical fiber for communications and for the development of manufacturing processes that made the telecommunications revolution possible."
The development of optical fiber technology was a watershed event in the global telecommunications and information technology revolution. Many of us today take for granted our ability to communicate on demand, much as earlier generations quickly took for granted the availability of electricity. But this dramatic and rapid revolution would simply not be possible but for the development of silica fiber as a high bandwidth, light-carrying medium for the transport of voice, video, and data. The silica fiber is now as fundamental to communication as the silicon integrated circuit is to computing. Optical fiber is the "concrete" of the "information superhighway." By the end of 1998, there were more than 215 million kilometers of optical fiber installed for communications worldwide. Through their efforts, Kao, Maurer, and MacChesney created the basis of modern fiber optic communications. Their creative application of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering to every aspect of fiber materials composition, characterization, and manufacturing, their understanding of the stringent materials requirements placed on the fiber by the performance needs of the telecommunications system, and, above all, their dedication to achieving their vision, were all critical to their success. Charles K. Kao, Robert D. Maurer, and John B. MacChesney have been selected to receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize, one of the engineering profession's highest honors. They will share the prize's $500,000 cash award. The Engineers Charles K. Kao was born in 1933 in Shanghai, China. He received a B.Sc. degree in 1957 and a Ph.D. degree in 1965 both in electrical engineering from the University of London. He joined ITT in 1957 as an engineer at Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., an ITT subsidiary in the United Kingdom. In 1960, he joined Standard Telecommunications Laboratories Ltd., UK, ITT's central research facility in Europe, and rose through the ranks from a research scientist to a research manager during his 10 years of service. It was during this period that Dr. Kao made his pioneering contributions to the field of optical fiber for communications. After a four years leave of absence spent at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Kao returned to ITT in 1974 when the field of optical fibers was ready for the pre-product phase. He joined the electro-optical products division in Roanoke, Va., as chief scientist and later became director of engineering. In 1982, in recognition of his outstanding research and management abilities, ITT named him the first ITT executive scientist. He was stationed mainly at the Advanced Technology Center in Connecticut, but spent 1985 at SEL Research Center in Germany. Concurrently, he was appointed an adjunct professor and fellow of Trumbull College at Yale University. In 1986, he was named corporate director of research. From 1987 until 1996, Dr. Kao served as vice chancellor (president) of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is currently chairman and chief executive officer of Transtech Services Ltd. in Hong Kong. He continues his efforts in telecommunications and information network development as well as in research into future networks. Kao was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1990. The Achievements Charles Kao is credited for first publicly proposing the possibility of practical telecommunications using fibers. At the time, it was well known that information could be transmitted digitally, or in binary code. Also, the possibility of using light as the medium for such a transmission was considered, but various schemes to "guide" the propagation of light, for example, in gas filled tubes, demonstrated unacceptable signal losses. It was also considered that optical losses in glass could never be low enough for glass fibers to be practical as a transmission medium. It was against this backdrop that Kao made a very careful study of the possibility of dielectric fibers for telecommunications in 1965. His analysis of telecommunications systems requirements indicated that losses of 20 dB per kilometer would be acceptable. His analysis of losses due to absorption, scattering, and bending then led him to the conclusion that fused silica could meet the loss requirements necessary for a successful fiber waveguide. This seminal work provided the impetus for serious research and development throughout the world on glass fiber waveguides for communications. Though Kao provided an analytical basis for the development of optical fibers, it was through the engineering talents of Robert Maurer that the first low-loss optical fiber was demonstrated in 1970. Maurer was motivated by Kao's early work, but based on his knowledge of glass, he concluded that modified fused silica (that is, a glass composed primarily of silica) was more promising than the multi-component glasses that were being investigated by others. When his work was revealed, it came as a great surprise to those who expected that fabrication of fibers from such a high melting material as silica would be impractical because of the imperfections introduced in the manufacturing process. Maurer and his team circumvented some of these problems by forming a fiber preform from the vapor phase on a mandrel. The mandrel was then removed and the glass collapsed and drawn into a fiber. The material was chemically graded to provide the low index of refraction cladding and the higher index core necessary for wave guiding, and this materials design is used today in all optical fiber for long-distance communication. The remarkable announcement from Corning of a prototypical technique for optical fiber manufacture stimulated vigorous research and development work elsewhere. In 1974 John MacChesney disclosed the MCVD process for controllable and reproducible manufacture of low loss optical fibers. This innovation involved the synthesis of the light guiding part of the fiber based on surface deposition of an internally generated soot. The process solved simply and elegantly persistent problems of purity and trace water contamination, and allowed the complex doping profiles required for the optical waveguide effect to be readily achieved. Based on the elegance of the process and its public disclosure, the manufacture of fiber by MCVD was quickly introduced around the world and enabled the timely deployment of optical fiber. The first optical fiber communication system was installed by AT&T between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Mass., and commenced operation in 1981. Important Papers Kao, K.C. and Hockham, G.A., "Dielectric-fibre Surface Waveguides for Optical Frequencies", Proc. I.E.E. Vol. 113, No. 7, July 1966, pp. 1151-1158. Awarded Electronic Division Premium.
Kao, K.C. and Davies, T.W., "Spectrophotometric Studies of Ultra Low Loss Optical Glasses - I: Single Beam Method", Journal of Scientific Instruments (Journal of Physics E) 1968, Series 2, Vol. 1, pp. 1063-1068.
Kao, C.K., "1012 bit/s Optoelectronics Technology", IEE Proceedings, Vol. 133, Pt.J, No 3, June 1986. pp. 230-236.
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