In just a few decades, new optical technologies have transformed the way we communicate. This year we celebrate Sir Charles Kao, 2009 Physics Nobel Prize winner, who 50 years ago discovered that a laser beam traveling down a single strand of low-loss glass optical fiber, has the ability to transfer the entire contents of a 1TB hard drive in about 31 milliseconds.
“Most of the data flowing across the Internet today travels in the form of light, pulsing through fibers made of glass,” said Dr. Gregory Quarles, Chief Scientist, The Optical Society. This discovery by Charles Kao in 1966 has changed the way we communicate in the most basic sense but has also brought countless benefits to society in science, medicine, industrial technology and space. Kao’s enthusiasm for fiber optics and forethought put optical communication technology at the heart of the ongoing information revolution in the 21st century. As The Optical Society celebrates it’s 100th anniversary in 2016, scientists in the optics community will continue to be innovation drivers of next generation communications systems.”
Since 1966, fiber optic communications have impacted nearly every aspect of modern life and in turn caused major changes to society. It will continue to change the way people learn, the way they live and relate to each other, as well as the way they work. Innovations in fiber, semiconductor lasers, optical amplifiers and WDM made long-distance communication more affordable, largely eliminating the need for satellite switching, reaching into the home, and inside data centers, where a vast web of interconnected glass and copper links enable search engines and social networks.
In the coming years, fiber optics communications will continue to revolutionize the following fields:
- Data communications, where replacing copper with lasers in optical interconnects will allow data transfer fast enough to transfer a 1GB movie in 31.25 microseconds.
- New applications in cloud computing allow for growth in video-sharing sites, video conferencing, movie downloads, online gaming, streamed television and smartphones.
- Remote learning enabled from across the world to teachers who are leaders in their field – changing the way they engage, interact and learn.
Optical communications is now cemented as being essential for economic and societal growth. Building upon Kao’s research, transmission capacity continues to grow with each decade. In 50 years from now, new optical networks will enhance our ability to interact with each other, our environment and machines in unforeseen ways.