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Charles Kao, the electrical engineer who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics with Willard Boyle and George Smith, has died in Hong Kong aged 84. Kao was awarded half of the 2009 prize “for ground-breaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication.”
Kao was born on 4 November 1933 in Shanghai, China. He studied electrical engineering at Woolwich Polytechnic (now the University of Greenwich) and received his PhD in electrical engineering from University College London in 1965 under the supervision of Harold Barlow. While pursuing his PhD, he was employed by Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) at the firm’s Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow, UK.
While working at STL in 1966, Kao realized that optical fibres made from high-purity glass could be used to transmit light signals over long distances. A few years later, he showed that fibres made of fused silica had the required purity and could also be easily manufactured. This was a crucial step towards the development of fibre-optical telecoms networks, which provide the backbone to the Internet.
Optical telecoms pioneer and Nobel laureate Charles Kao dies at 84
Hamish Johnston, Physics World