Dr Narinder Singh Kapany – The Sikh Inventor of OFC for High-Speed Internet

In Memory of : A Great Sikh Scientist , one of the 10 Most Renowned Sikhs in the World.

(surjitsingh.bhatti@gmail.com / drssbhatti.ca)

(The man who bent light)

Scientific history is replete with innovations that redefined our lives and the way the world moves forward. Nikola Tesla’s work led to the AC Electric supply system we have today. Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays is another such landmark. Rosalind Franklin’s work in DNA and RNA sequencing changed our understanding of Life Sciences. Likewise, the invention of Optical Fiber Cables (OFC) by Narinder Singh Kapany, an American Sikh (1926 – 2020), has revolutionized all communication systems with high-speed, high-volume internet and brought us incredibly closer. Today he is called ‘Father of Fiber Optics’.

Narinder Singh Kapany was born on 31st of  October 1926 in Moga (Panjab). He graduated from Agra University and went to Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. In 1954, he published a paper in Nature, in which he reported that light rays could be bent in thin, flexible glass fibers and carry information without much loss of energy enroute. He earned his PhD in Physics in 1955 and married Satinder Kaur that year. The couple then migrated to Rochester, Illinois (USA), where he started his career as Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester. Later, he joined the University of California, and began teaching and research at Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses.

Invention of Optical Fiber Cables (OFC) by Dr Narinder Singh Kapany

He discovered how glass or plastic fibers can be used to transmit light waves (as information carriers) at a speed of 300,000 km per second. With frequencies of a few thousand billion cycles per second (in the Tera Hertz range), the then newly discovered powerful laser beams (having very large capacity or bandwidth), began to be used to transmit data, photos, and videos over very long distances. The OFC are now routinely used in viewing interiors of living systems during (laser) surgeries, in cable TV, telephone calls transmission, computer networking, space applications, automobiles, aircraft and submarines.

The OFC, with diameters of a few millionth of a meter (in microns), are polished from inside to minimize losses due to absorption. Their outer surfaces are cladded with materials of low refractive index so that the laser beams (the carriers) are reflected only internally, by a process called total internal reflection, during their onward transmission. The technique used for coating fine silicon (or germanium) oxide, deposits the vaporous oxides on glass substrate, at high temperatures. These OFC are the backbone of world-wide high-speed internet systems today.

An Innovator, Entrepreneur with 120 Patents and an Academician

He was soon appointed Director of the US Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Member of the US National Inventors’ Council, the British Royal Academy of Engineers, the Optical Society of America and the American Association for Advancement of Science. His work in fibre optic communications, lasers, bio-medical instrumentation, solar energy and pollution monitoring appeared in about 100 papers in technical journals and as 120 Patents of his inventions of new devices. Dr Kapany founded his own companies, the most important being Optics Technology Inc. (in 1960), Kaptronics (in 1973) and K2 Optronics (in 2000), the last named after world’s highest peak.

Dr Kapany was Regents Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. At Stanford University, he was a Visiting Professor of Physics and Consultant in Electrical Engineering. He wrote four books on Opto-electronics and Entrepreneurship. The Pan-Asian American Chamber  of Commerce gave him their “Excellence-2000 Award”. He got “Pravasi Bhartiya Samman” from Government of India in 2004. Many people believe that he deserved Nobel Prize in Physics. In November 1999, Fortune Magazine named world’s seven top scientists as “The Unsung Heroes of 20th century.” Dr Kapany was one of them.

Dr Narinder Singh Kapany’s Philanthropic Contributions

At California, he created a non-profit, non-political Sikh Foundation in 1967, to promote Sikh heritage. The Foundation publishes authentic research works on Sikhism and strives to preserve Sikh Art by holding exhibitions in America and elsewhere in the world. This Foundation also sponsors Punjabi language courses at Stanford University and the University of California. It has worked for the renovation and conservation of many historical Sikh architectural and heritage buildings. With UNESCO’s help, the Foundation restored a decrepit mosque in Gurdaspur (Panjab), free of cost, and delivered it to the Muslims.

Endowment Chairs created by Dr Narinder Singh Kapany

In 1998, he endowed a Chair of Sikh Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, in memory of his mother, Kundan Kaur. A second Chair for Research in Opto-Electronics (in 1999), and a third Chair for Entrepreneurship, were endowed by him at University of California, Santa Cruz.  He collected rare Sikh paintings and Artifacts of Sikh Art over decades.  To celebrate 25 years of Sikh Foundation, he gifted $ 500,000 and over 100 historic Sikh Art works to Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for a Sikh Arts Gallery, named after his wife. He also donated art works to Sikh Heritage Gallery at Smithsonian Institute at Washington, DC and Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

His believed that the Sikhs, particularly the youth, and the world at large should realize the great significance of the prodigious amount of unknown Sikh Art-work that exists and the beauty of the rich Sikh culture and traditions. Unfortunately, most Americans, and even many Sikhs, are not aware of the existence of these precious treasures. His services to Sikh Art and Culture will always be admired as they are as significant as his Scientific Inventions. He followed the tradition of selfless service to society, set by his father who had earlier established the Guru Nanak Public School and a College to provide free education at Dehradun in India. 

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Indians in general, and Sikhs in particular, must be proud of Dr Narinder Singh Kapany .

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  “Science of today is the Technology of tomorrow” – Edward Teller  ( A Physicist)

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