City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics

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Oxford University Press, 2004 - Science - 340 pages
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City of Light tells the story of fiber optics, tracing its transformation from 19th-century parlor trick into the foundation of our global communications network. Written for a broad audience by a journalist who has covered the field for twenty years, the book is a lively account of both the people and the ideas behind this revolutionary technology.
The basic concept underlying fiber optics was first explored in the 1840s when researchers used jets of water to guide light in laboratory demonstrations. The idea caught the public eye decades later when it was used to create stunning illuminated fountains at many of the great Victorian exhibitions. The modern version of fiber optics--using flexible glass fibers to transmit light--was discovered independently five times through the first half of the century, and one of its first key applications was the endoscope, which for the first time allowed physicians to look inside the body without surgery. Endoscopes became practical in 1956 when a college undergraduate discovered how to make solid glass fibers with a glass cladding.
With the invention of the laser, researchers grew interested in optical communications. While Bell Labs and others tried to send laser beams through the atmosphere or hollow light pipes, a small group at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories looked at guiding light by transparent fibers. Led by the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics, Charles K. Kao, they proposed the idea of fiber-optic communications and demonstrated that contrary to what many researchers thought glass could be made clear enough to transmit light over great distances. Following these ideas, Corning Glass Works developed the first low-loss glass fibers in 1970.
From this point fiber-optic communications developed rapidly. The first experimental phone links were tested on live telephone traffic in 1977 and within half a dozen years long-distance companies were laying fiber cables for their national backbone systems. In 1988, the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable connected Europe with North America, and now fiber optics are the key element in global communications.
The story continues today as fiber optics spread through the communication grid that connects homes and offices, creating huge information pipelines and replacing copper wires. The book concludes with a look at some of the exciting potential developments of this technology.
 

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City of light: the story of fiber optics

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An engineer by training, New Scientist correspondent Hecht explores the history of fiber optics in this interesting and far-reaching study. Beginning in Victorian Europe, his chronology traces the ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction Building a City of Light
3
Guiding Light and Luminous Fountains 18411890
12
Fibers of Glass
28
The Quest for Remote Viewing Television and the Legacy of Sword Swallowers 18951940
34
A Critical Insight The Birth of the Clad Optical Fiber 19501955
46
99 Percent Perspiration The Birth of an Industry 19541960
60
A Vision of the Future Communicating with Light 18801960
76
The laser Stimulates the Emission of New Ideas 19601969
92
A Demonstration for the Queen 19701975
160
Three Generations in Five Years 19751983
176
Submarine Cables Covering the Ocean Floor with Glass 19701995
201
The Last Mile An Elusive Vision
216
Reflections on the City of Light
227
Epilogue The Boom the Bubble and the Bust
239
Dramatis Personae Cast of Characters
257
A FiberOptic Chronology
265

The Only Thing Left Is Optical Fibers 19601966
103
Trying to Sell a Dream 19651970
117
Breakthrough The Clearest Glass in the World 19661972
131
Recipes for Grains of Salt The Semiconductor Laser 19621977
147
Notes
279
Index
329
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About the author (2004)

Jeff Hecht met his first laser as a Caltech undergraduate in 1968, and took a while to figure out what it was good for. In his case, it was a lot of words--he's been writing about lasers and optics for the past thirty years.

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