'Fiber Optics' is a term that gets thrown into the mix quite often. Chances are, if you were to ask a passerby 'Would you agree that fiber optics have had a significant impact on the way the world communicates and stays connected?' Chances are, they wouldn't hesitate to say 'Yes, sure.' But have you ever truly wondered what the technology actually is?
It goes without saying that as one of the premier technologies contributing to the increasingly connected nature of our world, fiber optics have made their mark, and it all began as far back as Roman Times, when glass was first drawn into fibers. After that, in 1713 Rene de Reaumur made the first spun glass fibers, vaguely resembling a primitive version of a modern day 'fiber optic' cable
. Years later, a number of scientists demonstrated the possibility of transmitting light energy via various pathways, such as through a jet of water or through glass rods.
This early demonstration highlighted the application of fiber optic cable technology, which typically involves simply guiding light by refraction. These earliest scientific advancements, from the spinning of glass fiber to actually guiding light are very simple preludes to what was to come: fiber cable capable of transmitting data over long distances, faster than ever before possible.
Perhaps one of the most important precursors to modern fiber optic cable was the Photophone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in Washington. This device, which he described as his most important, allowed for the transmission of human conversation on a beam of light. It demonstrated how far the science had already come - despite the fact that all the scientists contributing to it had no clue what they were moving towards. That first monumental wireless 'phone call' was made over 700 ft from the roof of the Franklin School to the window of Alexander Graham Bell's Lab.
Eventually, the technology pioneered by Bell and other scientists led to fiber optic cabling as it is known in the modern era. Much of this research was focused on minimizing attenuation, a phenomenon in physics where a flux (the flowing energy) gradually loses its intensity - such as in the way a pair of sunglasses works to reduce the intensity of the sunlight.
Charles Kao finally solved the problem of attenuation in the 21st century. His solution was to act on the notion that fiber optic cabling could be perfected to reduce attenuation below 20 decibels. To do this, he used high purity silica glass for the fibers, which he discovered to be the ideal material. With the technology's most damning setbacks finally overcome, Kao's discovery finally made fiber optic cable a valuable and (most importantly) viable way to communicate at the speed of light. His revolutionary work earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009, as well as the appellations: 'The Godfather of Broadband' and the 'Father of Fiber Optics'.
Today, the revolutionary cable continued to be improved while being used to transmit information around the world faster than scientists like Alexander Graham Bell and Rene de Reaumur would have ever thought possible. You will find fiber optic cable supporting everything from your neighborhood to the most technologically advanced businesses. All in all, it's come a long way. From the simple trick of guiding light through glass to transmitting terabytes of information around the world.
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