Charles Kao

It's common for most of us these days to stream a movie over the Internet. If you think about the numbers, this is an amazing technological achievement. A good laptop can have 1920x1080 (more than two million) pixels. Each pixel could account for 65000 colours (16 bits) and is refreshed 60 times per second. This means that, to watch a movie, the computer needs to receive billions and billions of information bits per second. How is that even possible? Nowadays internet communication operates using short laser pulses guided within optical fibres. Without a fibre, a laser pulse would just become larger and larger as it propagates, quickly losing all its power. But an optical fibre acts a "pipe" for light, guiding it to destination with minimal power losses. Pioneering work in the field of fibre-optics was performed by Charles Kao, while working at Standard Telephones and Cables in Harlow, England. With colleagues, Charles Kao managed to clean glass fibres from impurities that would absorb light, reducing losses and making optical fibres a viable alternative to copper cables. He was awarded a share of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.  

Want to learn more?

Our 2nd year course B28PO Photonics and Optics, 4th year course B20OE Optical Sensing and Energy Studies and 5th year course B21FC Fibres and Nonlinear Optics cover principles and applications of optical fibres in detail. There are also opportunities to investigate may key concepts in a “hands-on” environment as part of our laboratory course B29PI Applied Physics. Additionally, during summer internships and final year projects there are many opportunities to get to grips with cutting edge research developing fibre-based optical sensors and fibre optical communication systems.