Charles K. Kao Biography

Charles K. Kao, a renowned electrical engineer and physicist, revolutionized telecommunications by pioneering the use of fiber optics. Originally from Hong Kong, he relocated to England after completing his education and joined Standard Telephones & Cables, where he later conducted groundbreaking research on fiber attenuation. Through his innovative techniques, Kao successfully merged glass fibers with lasers, enabling the transmission of digital data with minimal loss and laying the foundation for the Internet as we know it today. Recognized as the ‘Godfather of Broadband’, Kao received numerous accolades, including the prestigious 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics. At the time of his passing in Hong Kong, he held dual citizenship of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Sir Charles Kuen Kao
  • Died At Age: 84
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: May-Wan Kao
    • Father: Kao Chun-Hsiang
    • Mother: King Tsing Fong
  • Born Country: China
  • Inventors
  • Physicists
  • Died on: September 23, 2018
  • Place of death: Sha Tin, Hong Kong
  • Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Greenwich
  • City: Shanghai, China
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Independent Schools Foundation Academy
  • More Facts
  • Education:
    • University College London
    • University Of London
    • St. Joseph’s College
    • University Of Greenwich

Childhood & Early Life

Charles Kuen Kao was born on 4 November 1933, in Shanghai, China. His father, Kao Chun-Hsiang, was a successful Shanghai attorney and his mother’s name was King Tsing Fong. He had a younger brother called Timothy and two elder siblings who died before he was born. Charles and his brother led a protected life and began their education at home under home tutors. In 1943, Charles started his formal education at the elite Shanghai World School. In 1948, the family moved to Hong Kong.

Education and Career

After moving to Hong Kong, Charles enrolled at St. Joseph’s College and excelled academically. In 1953, he moved to England and enrolled at Woolwich Polytechnic (now University of Greenwich) in London. He graduated in 1957 with a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering. Shortly after graduating, he joined Standard Telephones & Cables (STC), a British subsidiary of International Telephone & Telegraph Co (ITT). He worked in the microwave division and later joined the research unit, the Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL), at Harlow. In 1963, he joined STL’s optical communications research team and started investigating fiber attenuation. In 1965, he received his PhD degree from the University of London. In 1970, the first practical fiber-optic cable was successfully produced. Charles also worked at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and later became the Chief Scientist at ITT’s Electro-Optical Products Division in the USA.

Later Years and Major Works

In 1987, Charles returned to Hong Kong and served as the Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong until 1996. He held various positions in different organizations in Hong Kong. Charles K. Kao is best known for his groundbreaking work on the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications. He discovered how light can be transmitted through fiber-optic cables without substantial loss.

Awards and Achievements

Charles K. Kao received numerous awards and honors throughout his career. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009 for his groundbreaking achievements in the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication. He also received the Faraday Medal, IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal, and the Marconi Prize. In 2010, he became a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) and received The Grand Bauhinia Medal (GBM) in Hong Kong. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering.

Family and Personal Life

In 1959, Charles K. Kao married Wong May-wan (Gwen), a fellow engineer at Standard Telephones & Cables. They had two children together. In 2004, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and in 2010, he and his wife founded the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease Limited to promote awareness about the disease. Charles K. Kao passed away on 23 September 2018 in Hong Kong at the age of 84. He is survived by his wife and children.

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