Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 Nobel Prize in Physics

Yesterday, the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Charles K. Kao, Willard Boyle, and George E. Smith for their work.

Kao won the award for his work with optic fibers. In 1966, he, along with the virtually unknown George Hockham (who doesn't even get his own wiki article), did pioneering work with fiber optics, proving that then-huge attentuation problems were simply due to impurities in the glass fibers, and not a fundamental problem with the technology. He concluded that the fundamental impurity of a pure glass fiber is below 20 dB/km, a fundamental limit in telecommunications. This opened the doorway for glass fibers to replace slower copper lines. Later, he and another team studied the exact properties of a number of glasses, and concluded that the high purity and other desirable chacteristics of fused silica - pure SIO2 - made an excellent candidate for the high-speed fiber that we now count on to deliver high-speed internet and superior quality phone conversations.

He has an asteroid named after him - 3463 Kaokuen.

Boyle and Smith, meanwhile, won the award for their work inventing the Charge-coupled device, the ubitiqious digital sensors used in virtually all digital cameras and digital video devices. CCDs are far more efficient than photographic film (70% vs. 2%) and can be made for a wider bandwidth. They allows continuous electronic imaging, for better video, and autodatically produce digital data for easier sharing and processsing. In additon, they have virtually revolutionized astronomy, and made research within the realm of the amateur.

Both scientists also made other important research discoveries. Boyle helped develop the first continuously operating ruby laser, worked on selection landing sites for the Apollo missions, and worked at Bell labs on ICs during the 1960s. Smith headed the VLSI (very large scale integration) unit at Bell labs, and did research with lasers and semiconductor devices.

All information from Wikipedia.


Alwyncooper said...

George Hockham absolutely should get more recognition with respect to the discovery of fiber optics.

The paper, cited as solving the problems with glass quality leading to the development of todays fibre optic network, was jointly authored by both Charles Kao AND George Hockham. Someone get that man a Wiki entry!

The EGE said...

Agreed. I'll put up a wiki entry when I get time.