History of Fiber Optics

In the late 1800’s John Tyndall, demonstrated that light used internal reflection to follow a specific path. By using a jet of water that flowed from one container to another and a beam of light (Shown Below in Figure 1), As water poured out through the spout of the first container, Tyndall directed a beam of sunlight at the path of the water. The light, followed a zigzag path inside the curved path of the water. This experiment, marked the first research into the guided transmission of light.


Figure 1

Fiber optic technology progressed through in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950’s the development of the fiberscope, an image-transmitting device, which used the first practical all-glass fiber, was concurrently devised by Brian O’Brien at the American Optical Company and Narinder Kapany (who 1st coined the term “fiber optics” in 1956).
Soon after, the development of laser technology was the next important step in the establishment of the industry of fiber optics. This definately caught the attention of communication engineers about the importance of lasers as a means of carrying information.

In 1966, Charles Kao and Charles Hockham, published a landmark paper proposing that optical fiber might be a suitable transmission medium. However, due to impurities in glass development, distance of travel was an issue. Intrigued by this theory, glass researchers began to work by the problem of purifying glass.

Commercial applications soon followed. In 1977, both AT&T and GTE installed fiber optic telephone systems in Chicago and Boston respectively. These successful applications led to the increase of fiber optic telephone networks. By the early 1980’s, single-mode fiber operating in the 1310 nm and later the 1550 nm wavelength windows became the standard fiber installed for these networks. Initially, computers, information networks, and data communications were slower to embrace fiber, but today they too find use for a transmission system that has lighter weight cable, resists lightning strikes, and carries more information faster and over longer distances.

The future of fiber optics can only be imagined, but nonetheless it is one of the most important discoveries of human kind.