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Optical fibre

information arteries of today’s society South East,

A clear dome with many plastic tubes connected inside. The tubes are lit in shades of red, yellow and orange.
‘Light Pipes’ interactive demonstrating fibre optics in a past exhibition at the Science Museum. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

Optical fibres facilitate broadband communication that enables music, images and video to be transferred around the globe in a split second. Pulses of laser light are channelled through the glass fibres so that information can go from London to New York in a few hundredths of a second. The fibres can also carry much more data than copper wires.

The first practical optical-fibre communication system was proposed by Charles Kao (born 1933) and George Hockham (born 1938) in 1966. Kao revealed their huge potential when he calculated that with a fibre of purest glass it would be possible to transmit light signals over 100 kilometres, compared to only 20 metres for the fibres of his day. The first ultra-pure fibre was successfully fabricated a few years later, in 1970.

Kao and Hockham’s team at Standard Telecommunications Ltd in Harlow established the first trial fibre with cable laid between Hitchin and Stevenage. Kao was awarded half of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for ‘groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication’.

Science Museum

Engineering, Chemistry, Computing,
South East
Harlow, Essex
Key Individuals
Charles Kao, George Hockham, Standard Telecommunications Ltd,