Charles K. Kao
|Charles K. Kao|
Sir Charles Kuen Kao, GBM, KBE, FRS, FREng (born 4 November 1933) is a Chinese-born Shanghainese electrical engineer and physicist who pioneered the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications. In the 1960s, Kao created various methods to combine glass fibers with lasers in order to transmit digital data, which laid the groundwork for the evolution of the Internet. "Communication as we know it, including the Internet, would not exist without fiber optics," said William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering in 1999.
Known as the "Godfather of Broadband", the "Father of Fiber Optics", and the "Father of Fiber Optic Communications", Kao was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for "groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication". Kao holds citizenships in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Charles Kao was born in Shanghai in 1933, and his ancestral home is in nearby Jinshan. He studied Chinese classics at home with his brother, under a tutor. He also studied English and French at an international school in Shanghai which was founded by a number of progressive Chinese educators including Cai Yuanpei.
Kao's family moved to Hong Kong in 1948 where he completed his secondary education (advanced level) at St. Joseph's College in 1952. He did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Woolwich Polytechnic (now the University of Greenwich), obtaining his BSc degree.
He then pursued research and received his PhD degree in electrical engineering in 1965 from University College London (under Professor Harold Barlow) as an external student while working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow, England, the research centre of Standard Telephones and Cables. It is there that Kao did his first groundbreaking work as an engineer and researcher working alongside George Hockham under the supervision of Alec Reeves.
Kao joined The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 1970, to found the Department of Electronics, which later became the Department of Electronic Engineering. During this period, Kao was the Reader and then the Chair Professor of Electronics at CUHK; he built up both undergraduate and graduate study programs of electronics and saw the graduation of his first students. Under his leadership, the School of Education and other new research institutes were established. He then went back to ITT Corporation in 1974 (the parent corporation of STC at that time) in the United States and worked in Roanoke, Virginia, first as Chief Scientist and later as Director of Engineering. In 1982, he became the first ITT Executive Scientist and was stationed mainly at the Advanced Technology Center in Connecticut. While there, he served as an adjunct professor and Fellow of Trumbull College at Yale University. In 1985, Kao spent one year in West Germany, at the SEL Research Centre. In 1986, Kao was the Corporate Director of Research at ITT.
Kao was the Vice-Chancellor (President) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1987 to 1996. After his retirement from CUHK in 1996, Kao spent his 6-month sabbatical leave at the Imperial College London Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering; from 1997 to 2002, he also served as Visiting professor in the same department. From 1993 to 1994, he was the President of ASAIHL (The Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning).
Kao then worked as the Chairman and CEO of Transtech Services Ltd., a telecommunication consultancy company in Hong Kong. He was the founder, Chairman and CEO of ITX Services Limited. From 2003 to January 30, 2009, Kao was an Independent Non-executive Director and Member of the Audit Committee of Next Media. Since 1991, Kao has been an Independent Non-Executive Director and a member of the Audit Committee of the Varitronix International Limited in Hong Kong.
In 2000, Kao founded the Independent Schools Foundation Academy (ISF), which is located in Cyberport, Hong Kong. He was its founding Chairman in 2000, and stepped down from the Board of the ISF in December 2008.
Kao was the keynote speaker at IEEE GLOBECOM 2002 in Taipei, Taiwan. In 2003 Kao was named a Chair Professor by special appointment at the Electronics Institute of the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, National Taiwan University.
In 1996, Kao donated to Yale University, and the Charles Kao Fund Research Grants was established to support Yale's studies, research and creative projects in Asia. The fund currently is managed by Yale University Councils on East Asian and Southeast Asian Studies.
Kao has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease since early 2004 and has speech difficulty, but has no problem recognizing people or addresses. Kao's father also suffered from the same disease. Since 2008, he has resided in Mountain View, California, United States, where he moved from Hong Kong in order to live near his children and grandchild.
On October 6, 2009, Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the study of the transmission of light in optical fibers and for fiber communication, said: "I am absolutely speechless and never expected such an honour". Kao's wife told the press that the prize after paying tax to the US government, will primarily be used for Charles's medical expenses.
Ancestry and family
Kao's father Kao Chun-Hsiang (高君湘) was a lawyer who obtained his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1925. He was a professor at Soochow University (then in Shanghai) Comparative Law School of China.
His grandfather was Gao Xie (aka Gao Chuiwan), a famous scholar, poet, literator, artist, and a leading figure of the Southern Society (南社) during the late Qing Dynasty. Some influential writers including Gao Xu, aka Gao Tianmei), Yao Guang (姚光), and Gao Zeng (高增) were also Gao's close relatives.
His father's cousin was astronomer Ping-Tse Kao (Kao Crater is named after him). Kao has a younger brother named Timothy Wu Kao (高鋙), who is a civil engineer and Professor Emeritus at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His research is in hydrodynamics.
Kao met his future wife May-Wan Kao (née: Wong; 黃美芸) in London after graduation. His wife was a Fortran programmer who worked in the same factory as Kao. She is British Chinese. They were married in 1959 in London, and have two children, a son and a daughter, both of whom reside and work in Silicon Valley, California.
Work and related history
Fiber optics and communications
In the 1960s at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) based in Harlow, Essex, Kao and his co-workers did their pioneering work in the realisation of fiber optics as a telecommunications medium, by demonstrating that the high-loss of existing fibre optics arose from impurities in the glass, rather than from an underlying problem with the technology itself.
In 1963 when Charles first joined the optical communications research team he made notes summarising the background situation and available technology at the time, and identifying the key individuals involved. Initially Kao worked in the team of Antoni E. Karbowiak (Toni Karbowiak), who was working under Alec Reeves to study optical waveguides for communications. Kao's task was to investigate fiber attenuation, for which he collected samples from different fiber manufacturers and also investigated the properties of bulk glasses carefully. Kao's study primarily convinced himself that the impurities in material caused the high light losses of those fibers.
In 1963, Kao was appointed head of the electro-optics research group at STL. He took over the optical communication program of STL in December 1964, because his supervisor, Karbowiak, left to take the Chair in Communications in the School of Electrical Engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia.
Although Kao succeeded Karbowiak as manager of optical communications research, he immediately decided to abandon Karbowiak's plan (thin-film waveguide) and overall change research direction with his colleague George Hockham. They not only considered optical physics but also the material properties. The results were first presented by Kao to the IEE in January 1966 in London, and further published in July with George Hockham (1964–1965 worked with Kao).a[›] This study first theorized and proposed to use glass fibers to implement optical communication, the ideas (especially structural features and materials) described are largely the basis of today's optical fiber communications.
In 1965,b[›] Kao with Hockham concluded that the fundamental limitation for glass light attenuation is below 20 dB/km (decibels per kilometer, is a measure of the attenuation of a signal over a distance), which is a key threshold value for optical communications. However, at the time of this determination, optical fibers commonly exhibited light loss as high as 1,000 dB/km and even more. This conclusion opened the intense race to find low-loss materials and suitable fibers for reaching such criteria.
Kao, together with his new team (members including T.W. Davies, M.W. Jones, and C.R. Wright), pursued this goal by testing various materials. They precisely measured the attenuation of light with different wavelengths in glasses and other materials. During this period, Kao pointed out that the high purity of fused silica (SiO2) made it an ideal candidate for optical communication. Kao also stated that the impurity of glass material is the main cause for the dramatic decay of light transmission inside glass fiber, rather than fundamental physical effects such as scattering as many physicists thought at that time, and such impurity could be removed. This led to a worldwide study and production of high-purity glass fibers. When Kao first proposed that such glass fiber could be used for long-distance information transfer and could replace copper wires which were used for telecommunication during that era, his ideas were widely disbelieved; later people realized that Kao's ideas revolutionized the whole communication technology and industry.
Kao played a leading role in the early stage of engineering and commercial realization of optical communication. In spring 1966, Kao traveled to the U.S. but failed to interest Bell Labs, which was a competitor of STL in communication technology at that time. He subsequently traveled to Japan and gained support. Kao visited many glass and polymer factories, discussed with various people including engineers, scientists, businessmen about the techniques and improvement of glass fiber manufacture.
Kao developed important techniques and configurations for glass fiber waveguides, and contributed to the development of different fiber types and system devices which met both civil and militaryc[›] application requirements, and peripheral supporting systems for optical fiber communication. In mid-1970s, he did seminal work on glass fiber fatigue strength. When named the first ITT Executive Scientist, Kao launched the "Terabit Technology" program in addressing the high frequency limits of signal processing, so Kao is also known as the "Father of the Terabit Technology Concept". Kao has published more than 100 papers and was granted over 30 patents, including the water-resistant high-strength fibers (with M.S. Maklad).
At an early stage of developing optic fibers, Kao already strongly preferred single mode for long-distance optical communication, instead of using multi-mode systems. His vision later was followed and now is applied almost exclusively.
Kao is also a visionary of modern submarine communications cables and largely promoted this idea. He predicted in 1983 that world's seas would be littered with fiber optics, five years ahead of the time that such a trans-oceanic fiber-optic cable first became serviceable.
Ali Javan's introduction of a steady helium–neon laser and Kao's discovery of fiber light-loss properties now are recognized as the two essential milestones for the development of fiber-optic communications.
Environmental studies and energy leadership
Kao is one of the few earliest who started studying the environmental effects of the land reclamation in Hong Kong, and presented one of his first related studies at the conference of ACU (Association of Commonwealth Universities) in Edinburgh in 1972.
Kao was the Chairman and Member of the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) of Hong Kong for two years, and retired from the position on July 15, 2000. Kao is a Member of the Council of Advisors on Innovation and Technology of Hong Kong, appointed on April 20, 2000.
Honors and awards
Kao has received numerous honors and awards in his life, the most notable being the Nobel Prize in Physics. His awards including the following:
- 1993: The Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
- 2010: The Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE).
- 2010: Grand Bauhinia Medal (GBM), Hong Kong SAR.
Society & Academy Recognitions
- Life Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, USA (1979 election)
- Fellow, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, UK
- Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1997
- Fellow, The Royal Academy of Engineering, UK (1989 election)
- Fellow, The Marconi Society, USA (1985 election)
- Honorary Fellow (1994 election) and former President, The Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences (HKAES), Hong Kong
- Distinguished Fellow, The Hong Kong Computer Society, Hong Kong (1989 election)
- Honorary Fellow, The Hong Kong Institute of Engineers (1994 election)
- Academician, Academia Sinica, Taipei (1992 election)
- Member, Optical Society of America, USA
- Member, European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Austria
- Member, United States National Academy of Engineering (1990 election)d[›]
- Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Sweden (1988 election)
- Foreign Member, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing (1996 election)
- Fellow, Trumbull College of Yale University
- Honorary Fellow, The Queen Mary, University of London
- Honorary Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (appointed in 1996)
- Honorary Professor, Peking University, Beijing (appointed in 1995)
- Honorary Professor, Tsinghua University, Beijing (appointed in 1995)
- Honorary Professor, Beijing University of International Business and Economics, Beijing (appointed in 1995)
- Honorary Professor, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (appointed in 1995)
- Chair Professor by special appointment, National Taiwan University, Taipei (appointed in 2003)
- Honorary Professor (1997–2002), Department of Electronic Engineering, City University of Hong Kong
- Lifetime Honorary Professorship, City University of Hong Kong (appointed on January 1, 2002)
- Advisor of Macao Science and Technology Council
- Honorary Doctor of Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (1985)
- Doctor of Science, The University of Sussex, UK (1990)
- Doctor of Engineering, National Chiao Tung University, R.O.China (1990)
- Degree of Honorary Doctor, Soka University, Japan (1991)
- Doctor of Engineering, The University of Glasgow, UK (1992)
- Honorary DCL, Durham University, UK (1994)
- Doctor of the University, Griffith University, Australia (1995)
- Honorary degree in "Telecommunications engineering", University of Padua, Italy (Oct 18, 1996)
- Doctor of Science, The University of Hull, UK (1998)
- Doctor of Science, Yale University, USA (1999)
- Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, The University of Greenwich, UK (2002)
- Doctor of Science, Princeton University, USA (2004)
- Honorary doctor of laws degree, University of Toronto, Canada (June 16, 2005)
- Honorary Doctor, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, P.R.China (2007)
- Honorary Doctorate of Science, University College London, UK (2010)
- Honorary Degree, University of Strathclyde, UK (Sep 24, 2010)
- Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR (Mar 2011)
Kao donated most of his prize medals to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
- 1976: The Morey Award, American Ceramic Society, USA.
- 1977: The Stuart Ballantine Medal, Franklin Institute, USA.
- 1978: The Rank Prize, Rank Trust Fund, UK.
- 1978: The IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award. Citation: "for making communication at optical frequencies practical by discovering, inventing, and developing the material, techniques and configurations for glass fiber waveguides and, in particular, for recognizing and proving by careful measurements in bulk glasses that silicon glass could provide the requisite low optical loss needed for a practical communication system".
- 1979: The L. M. Ericsson International Prize, Sweden.
- 1980: The Gold Medal, AFCEA, USA.
- 1981: The CESASC Achievement Award, Southern California, USA.
- 1983: USAI Achievement Award, U.S.-Asia Institute, USA.
- 1985: The IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal.
- 1985: The Marconi International Scientist Award, Marconi Foundation, USA.
- 1985: The Columbus Medal of the City of Genoa, Italy.
- 1986: The CIE Achievement Award of the CIE-USA Annual Awards, USA.
- 1987: The C & C Prize, Foundation for Communication and Computer Promotion, Japan.
- 1989: The Faraday Medal, Institution of Electrical Engineers, UK.
- 1989: The James C. McGroddy Prize for New Materials, American Physical Society (APS). Citation: "for contribution to the materials research and development that resulted in practical low loss optical fibers, one of the cornerstones of optical communications technology".
- 1992: The Gold Medal of the Society, SPIE.
- 1995: The Gold Medal for Engineering Excellence, The World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), UK.
- 1996: The Prince Philip Medal of the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK; in recognition of "his pioneering work which led to the invention of optical fibre and for his leadership in its engineering and commercial realisation; and for his distinguished contribution to higher education in Hong Kong".
- 1996: la Citta' di Padova, Italy.
- 1996: The 12th Japan Prize. Citation: "for pioneering research on wide-band, low-loss optical fiber communications".
- 1998: The International Lecture Medal, IEE, UK.
- 1999: The Charles Stark Draper Prize (co-recipient with Robert D. Maurer and John B. MacChesney), USA.
- 2001: Millennium Outstanding Engineer Award, Hong Kong.
- 2006: The HKIE Gold Medal Award, HKIE (The Hong Kong Institute of Engineers), Hong Kong.
- 2009: The Nobel Prize in Physics (1/2 of the prize), Sweden. Citation: "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication".
- 2009: The IEEE Photonics Society Plaque.
- 2010 (Feb 27): Distinguished Science & Technology Award, 2010 Asian American Engineer of the Year Award, AAEOY 2010, USA.
- 2010 (Mar 27): 2009/2010 World Chinese Grand Prize, Phoenix Television, Hong Kong.
- 2010 (April 8/9): Chinese American Distinction Award, San Francisco, USA.
- 20 Feb 2014: FTTH Operators Award and Individual Award
- Featured in Science Museum London.
- Hong Kong Affairs Adviser (港事顧問) (May 1994 – June 30, 1997)
- The 3463 Kaokuen, discovered in 1981, named after Kao in 1996.
- 1996 (November 7): The North Building of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Science Centre has been named as Charles K. Kao Building.
- 1999: Asian of the Century, Science and Technology.
- 2002: Leader of the Year – Innovation Technology Category, Sing Tao, Hong Kong.
- October 21, 2002: Inducted into the Engineering Hall Of Fame, the 50th Anniversary Issue, Electronic Design.
- January 3, 2008: Inducted into the ‘Celebration 60’, British Council's 60th anniversary in Hong Kong.
- November 4, 2009: Honorary Citizenship, and the Dr. Charles Kao Day in Mountain View, California, USA.
- December 30, 2009: The landmark auditorium in the Hong Kong Science Park has been named after Kao – Charles K. Kao Auditorium.
- 2009: Hong Kong's Person of Year.
- The Top 10 Asian Achievements of 2009 – No.7.
- 2010 (February): Honoree, Committee of 100, USA.
- 2010 (March 18): The square of the Independent Schools Foundation Academy (ISF Academy) has been named after Kao.
- The 2010 OFC/NFOEC Conferencese[›] were dedicated to Kao, March 23–25, San Diego, California, USA.
- May 14–15, 2010: Two sessions were dedicated to Kao, The 19th Annual Wireless and Optical Communications Conference (WOCC 2010), Shanghai, P.R.China.
- May 22, 2010: Inducted into the memento archive of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.|
- Mid-2010: Hong Kong Definitive Stamp Sheetlet (No. 1), Hong Kong SAR.
- March 25, 2011: Blue plaque unveiled in Harlow, Essex, UK.
- September 2014: Sir Charles Kao UTC (now known as BMAT STEM Academy) was opened
- 4 Nov 2014: Gimme Fibre Day on Kao's birthday, FTTH Councils Global Alliance
Later Life & Dementia
In 2002, Charles was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He is unable to express or take care of himself and has no memory of most things in his life. His speech is impaired too, resulting in lack of fluency. In 2016, Charles lost the ability to maintain his balance or walk without aids. At the end-stage of his dementia, he is currently taken care by his wife Gwen and has the intention not to be kept with life support or have CPR performed on him when the time comes for him to go.
^ a: Kao's major task was to investigate light-loss properties in materials of optic fibers, and determine whether they could be removed or not. Hockham's was investigating light-loss due to discontinuities and curvature of fibre.
^ b: Some sources show around 1964, for example, "By 1964, a critical and theoretical specification was identified by Dr. Charles K. Kao for long-range communication devices, the 10 or 20 dB of light loss per kilometer standard." from Cisco Press.
^ c: In 1980, Kao was awarded the Gold Medal from American Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, "for contribution to the application of optical fiber technology to military communications".
^ d: In the United States National Academy of Engineering Membership Website, Kao's country is indicated as People's Republic of China.
^ e: OFC/NFOEC – Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Charles K. Kao|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charles K. Kao.|
- Optical Fibre History at STL
- 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics information
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- Man who lit up the world – Professor Charles Kao CBE FREng Ingenia, Issue 43, June 2010
|Awards and achievements|
| IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal
| Japan Prize
Takashi Sugimura and
Bruce N. Ames
Makoto Kobayashi, and
| Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics
with Willard Boyle and George E. Smith
Andre Geim and
| Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong
|Order of precedence|
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal
| Hong Kong order of precedence
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal