Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Prizes 2009 - Physics - optical technology

Nobel Prizes are often given for work done a long time ago that has proven to be highly valuable in the ensuing years. This years Nobel Prize in physics was given to three inventors for their work in optical technology from the 1960's.

Willard S.Boyle and George E. Smith were given their prizes for the invention of the charge-coupled device, (CCD), which revolutionized the development of imaging devices by capturing images of light electronically. It led to the development of the digital camera, bar codes, and medical imaging technology and other devices.

CCD's work by converting pixels into electronic charges, which are linked to a corresponding color.

Charles K. Kao shared in this years prize for his pioneering work in the development of fiber optics. He was the first to calculate how light could be transmitted over long distances

Here's a basic description of a charge coupled device:,,sid5_gci295633,00.html

Boyle and Smith discussed the invention of the CCD during a presentation at Bell Labs in 1978. The basic design of the CCD only took an hour! It took three more days for a prototype to be built, and another week for some basic testing.

A fiber optic strand, which is bundled into a cable, consists of three parts: 1) the core where the light travels 2) the cladding, which reflects light back into the core and 3)a protective buffer coating. The entire cable is protected by an outer jacket.

Light in optical fibers travels a long way due to the cladding reflecting the light back into the core, but the signal does degrade. It's boosted by a set of optical regenerators, which are specially coated optical fibers whose signal is amplified by a laser. The incoming signal is then decoded and sent to an electronic device, such as a computer or phone.

How fiber optics fibers are made:

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