Logo site
Logo site

Search on OralHistory.ws Blog

Search on OralHistory.ws Blog

Illuminating the World: The Journey of Fiber Optics Pioneer Dr. Kapany

Fiber optics has changed the scenario of data-transferring methodology in the world. It was also a revolutionary step in science and technology. Earlier in this globalized world, transferring data at minimum time and quick access to information was impossible. But the invention of fiber optics has changed the entire situation. The man who is behind this invention is Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany. He is an Indian-born American physicist. Over a half-century, his invention allowed us to use high-speed data-transferring technology through fiber optics over long distances. This happened because of his ground-breaking work today; we enjoy high-speed communication and several medical treatments like endoscopy, laser surgery etc.

Narinder Singh Kapany was born in Moga, Punjab. He was intelligent from his childhood. His physics teacher had taught him that light always travels in a straight line. That day, he provoked me to think about why light can’t travel through a twisted path. That curious, intelligent boy of Punjab is widely known as the ‘Father of fiber optics’. That simple clue made him think, and he proved that his teacher was wrong. The light can travel through a bent path. After he graduated from Agra University, Dr. Kapany joined Imperial College, London, for further studies in optics. He received a Ph.D. degree from Imperial College in 1955. Later he moved to the University of Rochester and then, after that, Illinois Institute of Technology to continue his research on fiber optics. He did his research and innovations in fiber optics communication, biomedical sensor instruments, laser technology, solar energy and pollution monitoring.

An optical fiber is a lean glass wire that transmits light from one end to another. It is thinner than a human hair. It can transmit signal data over longer distances with higher bandwidth, meaning more data with less loss. The amount of lost data in Fibre optics is much lesser than in metal wire. The transmission rate is much higher, like the speed of light.

Dr. Kapany began his research in fiber optics at the Imperial College, London. At that time, he was working with an English physicist Harold Hopkins. In 1954, he proved that light could travel within a bent glass fiber. He demonstrated this in his department. The same year, the popular scientific journal Nature published his research paper ‘A Flexible Fibrescope Using Static Scanning’ in their January issue. After that, he contributed over a hundred scientific papers in various journals worldwide. He always tried to establish the term’ fiber optics’ in his scientific papers. A few important medical devices were developed based on his innovation, such as biomedical sensors, endoscopes, gastroscopes and bronchoscopes.

He is also a businessman and an entrepreneur. His career has expanded in science, business, management, academia, lecturing, publishing and farming. He is also engaged in art collecting, sculpting and charity.

Dr. Kapany specializes in the Processes of Innovation and the Management of Technology and Technology Transfer. He created an organization named Optics Technology Inc in 1960. He worked there for twelve years as Chairman of the Board, President and Director of Research. After seven years, in 1967, the company went public with several corporate purchases and joint ventures in the United States of America and other countries. In 1973, He established another company Kaptron Inc. He was the President and CEO of that company until he sold the company to AMP Incorporated in 1990. After that, he worked as an AMP Associate for nine years. He opened another company named K2 Optronics. His companies were engaged in research and innovation in fiber optics. He also served as a board member in various companies. Earlier, he was a member of the Young Presidents Organization and the National Inventors Council and is currently a member of the World Presidents Organization.

In the academic field, Dr. Kapany worked as a Regents Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was also in the position of Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was also associated with Stanford University. He was a Visiting Scholar in Physics Department and Consulting Professor in the Electrical Engineering Department.

Dr. Kapani has been a patron of education and arts. He was active in establishing the Sikh Foundation. He donated 5 million dollars to the Asian Arts Museum of San Francisco.
Presently he lives in San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Satinder, son Rajinder and daughter Kiren.

Dr. Kapany is well known as the innovator of fiber optics. His research and invention were revolutionary. He is the owner of over a hundred patents. Indian Government awarded him with the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Samman’. USA Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce honored him with “the Excellence 2000 Award” in 1998. He is an International Fellow of several scientific societies, like the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the Optical Society of America and the American Association. Fortune magazine recognized him as one of the seven ‘Unsung Heroes’ in their ‘Businessmen of the Century’ issue, 1999.

In 2009, when the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced for transmitting light through fiberglass, everyone was expecting the name of Dr. Kapany. But Nobel Committee selected the award-winning scientist Charles K Kao. He made his discovery in 1966. Moreover, he calculated how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fiber, and his research encouraged the manufacturing of the first ultra-pure fiber in 1970.

But Dr. Kapany demonstrated for the first time that light could transmit through fiber optics at Imperial College, London, in 1954. After this, Dr.Kapany said in a telephonic interview that the world recognized him as the father of fiber optics. However, he also said that the Nobel committee has its own opinion.

📎 Related Articles

1. Explain That Stuff: Fiber Optics
2. The Sikh Foundation International
3. The Nobel Prize: Charles K. Kao and the Nobel Prize
4. The Tireless Journey of Kailash Satyarthi Against Child Exploitation
5. The Valiant Encounter Specialist: Mohan Chand Sharma