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Mauer Keck Schultz

Robert D. Maurer, Donald B. Keck, and Peter C. Schultz

Fiberoptic communications

The Information Age would have stagnated without a medium and method for transmitting massive amounts of data across great distances. In 1970, a team of researchers at Corning Glass made such a system a reality, using fiberoptic wire---which can carry 65,000 times more information than conventional copper wire.

Engineers worldwide had seen the potential of optical fibers for information transmission, but none could find a way to prevent light from fading and being lost as it traveled along the fibers. Corning Labs' Robert Maurer (Ph.D. MIT, 1951), Donald Keck (Ph.D. Michigan State University, 1967), and Peter Schultz (Ph.D. Rutgers University, 1967) solved this problem. In 1970, they designed and produced "Optical Waveguide Fibers" (patent #3,711,262) made of fused silica, through which at least 1% of light remained intact after traveling one kilometer. Thus the information "encoded" into a pattern of light waves at a given source can be decoded at a destination even a thousand miles away.

The method and materials invented by Maurer, Keck and Schultz opened the door to the commercialization of fiberoptics, first for long-distance telephone service, and later for computer-related telecommunications (such as the Internet) and even medical devices (like the modern endoscope).

Nearly all of the more than 25 million kilometers of fiberoptic wire installed in the U.S. today is based on the prototype of Maurer, Keck and Schultz. Thanks to their invention, an almost unbelievable amount of information is being shared and stored all over the world, among scholars, scientists, public servants, and private citizens. It is no surprise that the National Academy of Engineering lists fiberoptic communications as one of the 10 outstanding engineering achievements of the last 25 years. Nor is it likely that a superior method for long-distance information transfer will be discovered in the near future.

[May 1997]

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