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  • And the Nobel goes to ...

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2009
Photonics was in the spotlight last month as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics would be awarded to three legends in the field: Charles K. Kao, a founding father of fiber optics, who received half of the award, and Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, fathers of digital imaging.

Kao was cited for discovering how to transmit light through fiber optics efficiently using higher purity glass and for presenting single-mode fibers as the best transmission medium. He suggested that fused silica has the required purity, but because the material has a high melting temperature, it is not easily fabricated or manipulated. But in 1970, Corning Inc. doped titanium in the fused silica core and used pure fused silica in the cladding to make low-loss fused silica fibers using chemical vapor deposition.

Today, optical fibers carry almost all telephone and data traffic, from calls to text, music, images and video.

Before his retirement in 1996, Kao, a British and US citizen, served as director of engineering at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow, UK, and was vice chancellor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This 1974 photo shows Bell Laboratories researchers Willard S. Boyle (left) and George E. Smith with their CCD that led to a revolution in digital imaging. Credit: Alcatel-Lucent/Bell Labs.

Boyle and Smith were working at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., in 1969 when they designed the first digital imaging sensor, used today in everything from consumer cameras to surgical devices.

Their CCD used the photoelectric effect theorized by Albert Einstein to transform light into electric signals. The major challenge was determining how to gather and read out those signals into a large number of pixels in a short burst of time. The first consumer camera with a CCD was designed in 1981, eliminating the need for film for image capture and leading to a revolution in digital photography.

“Taken together, these [two] inventions may have had a greater impact on humanity than any others in the last half century,” said H. Frederick Dylla, executive director of the American Institute of Physics.

We at Photonics Media couldn’t agree more, and we extend our hearty congratulations to the Nobel laureates – and to all who strive for innovation in the field of photonics.

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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