UCL News


Nobel Prize for Physics to UCL alumnus Professor Charles Kao

10 December 2009

Professor Charles Kao, who studied for his PhD at UCL, today receives the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics at a ceremony in Oslo.

Fibre optics

The 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Charles Kuen Kao for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication. He was awarded half the prize, and the remainder was shared between two other scientists, Willard S Boyle and George E Smith, for their invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit - the CCD sensor.

Professor Kao took his undergraduate degree at the then Woolwich Polytechnic (now Greenwich University). He then went on to complete a PhD through the University of London under the supervision of Prof Harold Barlow from UCL. In his 2003 autobiography he states, "...  I formally registered at University College London, University of London, under the supervision of the Father of Microwaves - Professor Barlow. Professor Barlow was a prominent pioneer of theoretical and practical microwaves, and had made tremendous contributions to the development of radar during the second world war.......". His thesis, submitted in 1965 investigated 'Waveguides for millimetric and submillimetric electromagnetic waves'.

His pioneering work was conducted at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories (STL) in Harlow, England, the research centre of Standard Telephones and Cables (STC). The results were first presented by Kao at an IEE meeting in January 1966 in London, and further published in July with his former colleague George Hockham. This study first proposed to use glass fibres to implement optical communication, describing the basis of today's optical fibre communication.

Professor Kao subsequently became Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, whose present Vice-Chancellor writes that he is known as the Father of Fibre optics: "He developed the principles of fibre optics with his own insight and turned optical fibre communication into reality, eventually heralding the age of the internet".

Learn more about the 2009 Nobel Prizes and UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering through the links at the top of the article.