Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Fiber optics and ‘electronic eye’ earn Nobel prize

‘MASTERS OF LIGHT’ Pioneering work on fiber optics and semiconductors shaped ‘the foundations of today’s networked societies,’ the Nobel Prize jury said


Charles Kao (高錕), Willard Boyle and George Smith won this year’s Nobel Physics Prize yesterday for pioneering “masters of light” work on fiber optics and semiconductors, the Nobel jury said.

Hong Kong-based expert Kao and his two counterparts were hailed for creating the two tools that helped unleash the information technology revolution of today.

“This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded for two scientific achievements that have helped to shape the foundations of today’s networked societies. They have created many practical innovations for everyday life and provided new tools for scientific exploration,” the jury said.

One of them is the fiber-optic cable, which enables transmission of data at the speed of light, the Nobel jury said.

The American-British Kao, who was born in Shanghai, was awarded half of the prize for “groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication,” it said. Kao is also an academician at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica.

“If we were to unravel all of the glass fibers that wind around the globe, we would get a single thread over 1 billion kilometers long — which is enough to encircle the globe more than 25,000 times — and is increasing by thousands of kilometers every hour,” it said.

Kao’s discovery means that “text, music, images and video can be transferred around the globe in a split second,” the jury said.

Boyle, a Canadian-American, and Smith, an American, shared the other half of the prize for “the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit — the CCD sensor,” or the charge-coupled device, which is the “electronic eye” of the digital camera.

The CCD sensor, invented in 1969, “revolutionized photography, as light could be now captured electronically instead of on film.”

CCD technology is also used in many medical applications, such as imaging the inside of the human body, both for diagnostics and for microsurgery.

Last year, the prize went to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa of Japan and Yoichiro Nambu of the US for groundbreaking theoretical work on fundamental particles called quarks.

On Monday, Australian-­American scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider and Jack Szostak of the US won the Nobel Medicine Prize for identifying a key molecular switch in cellular aging.

The Chemistry Prize laureates will be named today, followed by the Literature Prize on Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday. The Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on Monday, Oct. 12.

The Nobel prizes, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first awarded in 1901.

Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, died childless in 1896, dedicating his vast fortune to create “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”

Laureates receive a gold medal, a diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor (US$1.42 million), which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The formal awarding of the prizes will take place at gala ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10.

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