Asian American Engineer of the Year Awards
Distinguished Science & Technology Award


Dr. Charles K. Kao
Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, Harlow, UK, and
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
A 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physics



"for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication"  

¡°This year's Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded for two scientific achievements that have helped to shape the foundations of today¡¯s networked societies. They have created many practical innovations for everyday life and provided new tools for scientific exploration. In 1966, Charles K. Kao made a discovery that led to a breakthrough in fiber optics. He carefully calculated how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibers. With a fiber of purest glass it would be possible to transmit light signals over 100 kilometers, compared to only 20 meters for the fibers available in the 1960s. Kao's enthusiasm inspired other researchers to share his vision of the future potential of fiber optics...¡±

- The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 

Charles K. Kao was born in Shanghai in 1933. He moved to Hong Kong in 1948 for his secondary school education and then went to the UK for further study. He received his B.Sc. degree in 1957 and obtained his Ph.D in 1965 in Electrical Engineering, both from the University of London. 

He joined the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) in 1957 and was transferred to the corporation¡¯s Standard Telecommunications Laboratories (STL) in 1960, where he meticulously studied glass fibres. In January 1966, he presented his groundbreaking conclusions which stimulated into action a worldwide activity which has been growing exponentially for the past 25 years. From 1970 to 1974, he took a four-year leave of absence from ITT, to take up the position as Reader and then Chair Professor of Electronics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He returned to ITT in 1974 as Chief Scientist and later became Director of Engineering. In 1982, in recognition of his outstanding research and management abilities, ITT named him the first ITT Executive Scientist. Concurrently, he was appointed Adjunct Professor and Fellow of Trumbull College at Yale University. In 1986, he was the Corporate Director of Research. From 1987 to 1996, he was the Vice-Chancellor (President) of CUHK. 

Professor Kao is regarded as the ¡®Master of Light¡¯ who pioneered in the research of the optical fibre communication.

Based on the laser technology which was newly bloomed in the 1960¡¯s, he discovered how to transmit light over a long distance via optical glass fibres. This breakthrough paved the way for the development of optical cable networks that made efficient long-range, high-volume telecommunication transmissions possible. 

An optical glass fibre is a cylindrical dielectric waveguide (nonconducting waveguide) that transmits light along its axis, by the process of total internal reflection. Information is coded into an extremely fast flashing light, representing digital ones and zeros. It was made possible by the invention and development of the laser that came in time to provide the suitable light source.