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Charles Kao

Charles Kao

Born in Shanghai, Charles Kao, now 75, moved to Britain to study electrical engineering. He received a doctorate in his field in 1965. He later went to Hong Kong in 1970 to establish the electronics division of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and worked on the commercial development of optical fibres and systems.

What is he famous for?

He’s dubbed “the master of light”. Kao was an early pioneer in fibre optic communications, having calculated how to transmit light over long distances through optical glass fibres. This breakthrough means people today can exchange text, music and images around the world within seconds.

Why is he in the news?

Kao and two American scientists were jointly awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday. “[Kao’s] groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication, has shaped the foundations of today’s networked societies,” the jury said in a statement.

Now it seems like everyone wants to claim a piece of him. The Guardian celebrated Kao’s British citizenship with “Briton shares honour with Americans for laying the foundations of modern communications.” The China Daily preferred to play up his China roots with “Shanghai-born Kao one of three Nobel laureates in physics” and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong went for: “Nobel prize goes to a Hong Kong scientist”. Kao has US citizenship too.

A bit of an identity crisis, it seems.


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