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Narinder Kapany (1926–2020), physicist who co-invented fiber optics

by Linnea Crowther

Narinder Kapany was a physicist known as the “father of fiber optics,” who was one of the inventors of fiber optics technology.

Creating – and naming – a new technology

Kapany, a native of India, was determined from a young age to learn how to bend light. His quest took him to graduate school in London, where he began working with Professor Harold Hopkins on his project attempting to transmit light through flexible glass fibers. They became a powerful team: Hopkins provided the theory and Kapany determined how to put that theory in practice, and together they were among the first to create fiber optics. Kapany gave the new technology its name in a 1960 article he wrote for Scientific American. He als; became an enthusiastic promoter of their creation, writing academic papers as well as showing business and governmental interests how they could use the now-indispensable tech. Today, fiber optic technology is crucial in computers and telecommunications, as well as in medical imaging. In later years, Kapany settled in the U.S. and started a number of businesses as well as teaching at colleges including the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of California, Santa Cruz and Berkeley.

Kapany on the beginning of his interest in light

“I was just a precocious kid taking a college physics course when one day the professor told us that light ‘always travels in a straight line.’ But that can’t be true, I thought – it must be bent sometimes.” —from a 2009 interview for the San Francisco Chronicle

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Tributes to Narinder Kapany

Full obituary: The New York Times

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