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The groundbreaking technology offering blazing fast internet speeds is something we have taken for granted these days, but did you know that the brain behind this revolutionary technology was that of an Indian, born in a small town in Punjab? Meet Narinder Singh Kapany — the ‘Father of Fiber Optics.’
Born to a Sikh family in Moga, Punjab, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany was well known for his fiber optics work. He studied at the Agra University and served briefly as an Indian Ordnance Factories Service officer before going to Imperial College, London, in 1952. He obtained his Ph.D. degree there in 1955 for his work in optics. Dr. Kapany coined the term ‘Fibre Optics’ in 1956.
Kapany stated, “When I was a high school student at Dehradun in the beautiful foothills of Himalaya, it occurred to me that light need not travel in a straight line, that it could bend. I took the idea to the college. Actually, it was not an idea but the statement of a problem. When I worked in the ordnance factory in Dehradun after graduation, I tried using right-angled prisms to bend light. “
“However, when I went to London to study at the Imperial College and started working on my thesis, my adviser Dr. Hopkins suggested that I try glass cylinders instead of prisms. So I thought of a bundle of thin glass fibers, which could bend easily. Initially, my primary interest was to use them in medical instruments for looking inside the human body. The broad potential of optical fibers did not dawn on me till 1955. It was then that I coined the term fiber optics.”
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It was Kapany’s path-breaking research in fiber optics that paved the way for high-speed broadband internet. Yes! You can read this article so easily because of this man only! His research also paved the way for laser surgeries, endoscopy, solar energy, pollution monitoring, and many more scientific advances. He had over one hundred patents, and he was also a member of the National Inventors Council.
It will remain a debatable issue why Kapany couldn’t get the Nobel prize. The Nobel prize for fiber optics went to Charles Kao, who played an important role in inventing how to sustain light through glass fibers for long distances. At the same time, it was Kapany who first demonstrated successfully that light could be transmitted through bent glass fibers during his doctoral work at the Imperial College of Science in London in the early fifties, and published the findings in a paper in Nature in 1954.
He received several awards, including The Excellence 2000 Award from the USA Pan Asia chamber of commerce in 1998. Dr. Kapany was an international fellow of numerous scientific societies, including the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the Optical Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Narinder Singh Kapany’s career has spanned science, entrepreneurship, management, academics, publishing, teaching, and farming. His personal interests included philanthropy, art collecting, and sculpturing. As an entrepreneur, he had specialized in innovation and the management of technology and technology transfer. And, as a philanthropist, he had been active in fields of education and art. He had been the founder, chairman, and major funder of the Sikh Foundation and its activities for over 30 years. Kapany was also named as one of the seven unsung heroes by Fortune in their Businessmen of the century issue (1999-11-22).
He died on Friday, December 4, 2020. Dr. Narinder Kapany was one of those few distinguished Indians who impacted how the modern world functions. Indeed an inspiration.