Nerd For Tech
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Nerd For Tech

The Man Who Made the Internet World Possible

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

In the current times, where there is an ongoing Pandemic, and we are heavily dependent on the internet, do we exactly know: what is the internet?

We would say a place where we can share information, learn more, connect with other people across the globe etc.

Technically speaking, the internet is a bunch of connected computers- all over the world- sharing information, literally at the speed of light! Because it is light which helps in the transfer of data. We need to transfer data at such a high speed so that you can get almost instantaneous results from one computer to another as it shares its data with you.

To connect these computers at the speed of light, Fiber Optics are used.

Narinder Singh Kapany is the one who made it possible to connect computers transferring data at the speed of light. Known as the Father of Fiber Optics, he is the genius behind the technology of Fiber Optics but has hardly been recognized for his contribution to the internet.

Image of Narinder Singh Kapany in Darpan Magazine

Narinder Singh Kapany was an Indian-American physicist who is credited with the invention of Fiber optics. After graduating from Agra University, Narinder Singh Kapany went to Imperial College London to pursue Optics.

At the Imperial College, he worked with his PhD advisor, Harold Hopkins, to find a solution for bending light, initially, with the idea to use this in endoscopy.

He found a solution to this problem using the simple phenomenon of total internal reflection inventing the Fiber Optic.

Fiber Optics uses the phenomenon of total internal reflection to transmit light. When light is incident at one end of the glass tube at an angle greater than a specific angle called the critical angle (which for glass is 42 degrees) instead of refraction, it gets reflected into the same medium with no loss of energy, better than a mirror!

The critical angle is the angle of incidence from an optically denser to an optically rarer medium, for which the angle of refraction is 90 degrees. When the angle of incidence exceeds the critical angle of the specific medium, it causes the light to get reflected instead of refraction.

Explanation of Critical Angle, Wikimedia Commons

Narinder Singh Kapany used the phenomenon with the idea of having consecutive reflections down the tube. Hence, this made light travel along the path of the thin glass tube, which could bend easily.

Working of Fiber Optics, Wikimedia Commons

He used this phenomenon to create a Fiberscope, a device consisting of multiple optical fibers in a pipe with a single optical fiber transmitting light to the end like a single pixel.

The Fiberscope became a replacement for older Endoscopes, which were essentially rigid metal tubes. This helped revolutionize the technology so much that the same principle is still applied in modern Endoscopes.

This technology developed by Kapany was reliable for short distances but, for long distances, the light signals received at the end of the fiber was not accurate for an unknown reason.

Later, a physicist called Charles K. Kao figured out that this was because the molecules of impurities in the glass absorbed light and scattered it. Hence, to make it reliable across large distances, pure glass would have to be used, with substances called dopants that could be added to make the glass reflect even better.

Charles Kao was awarded Nobel prize for this discovery but Narinder Singh Kapany- the one who invented Fiber Optics- was never recognized.

Image of Charles K. Kao by David Dobkin, Wikimedia Commons

In 1960, Kapany founded Optics Technology Inc. and was chairman of the board, President, and Director of Research for twelve years. Fortune named him one of seven ‘Unsung Heroes of the 20th century’ for his Nobel Prize-deserving invention.

He died on the 4th of December, 2020 and was awarded India’s second-highest civilian award Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 2021.

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