Sir Charles Kao - Nobel Prize winner. Fibre optics pioneer. Philanthropist.
BSc Electrical Engineering – 1957 HonDSc – 2003 Sir Charles Kao received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 for his ground breaking research in fibre optics. In doing so he joined such illustrious company as Pierre and Marie Curie and Guglielmo Marconi. He received his knighthood in 2010.
Born in Shanghai and brought up in Hong Kong, Sir Charles came to the UK to study Electrical Engineering at the university’s predecessor, Woolwich Polytechnic, graduating in 1957.
Sir Charles pioneered the development and use of fibre optics in telecommunications, paving the way for today’s digital age and enabling the development of the Internet.
These developments all trace back to a laboratory in London in 1963. It was here that Sir Charles began experiments that demonstrated that strands of glass fibres can transmit almost unlimited amounts of digitised data on pulses of laser light.
Most scientists had thought this impossible. “Nobody bought my ideas at first,” Sir Charles recalls. Fortunately, he persisted: “When you are young, you are fervent about the things you believe in.”
His research went on to produce 29 patented discoveries, helping to develop the components and systems that made the telecommunications revolution possible. Fibre glass cables were laid around the world, vastly expanding the capacity to carry large amounts of data.
In 2010 he and his wife, Gwen Kao, founded the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease to promote awareness about and care for those with the disease in Hong Kong.
“My social life was busy, and I met my future wife at one of the student dances I organised… Student life is not all study or play, and Woolwich Polytechnic gave opportunities for students to grow into whole people.”