IN THIS SECTION
Future changing research...
Many of the communications, manufacturing and transportation technologies that we take for granted today wouldn’t exist without the invention of the first laser in 1960.
The key technologies that drive today’s global communication via the internet were developed by researchers at the University of Southampton following the invention of the first working laser.
In May 1960, Theodore Maiman and his co-workers at Hughes Research Laboratories in California switched on a new invention – Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It was the first example of a working LASER. A massive outpouring of results worldwide followed as new laser materials and configurations were rapidly discovered. Work on lasers began at Southampton in 1961.
In 1966, Charles Kao (winner of the Nobel Prize in 2009), working at the Standard Telecom Laboratories in the UK, speculated that light could be transmitted over long distances via optical fibres. With fibre of the purest glass, it would be possible to transmit signals over 100 kilometres compared to the 20 metres achieved by fibres at that time.
Inspired by Kao’s discovery, researchers at Southampton began working on optical fibres with the aim of making long-distance light communication a practical reality. Research student David Payne designed and constructed a fibre tower that allowed the fine control of optical fibres drawn from a glass rod.
In 1975, Professor Alec Gambling and David Payne reported new techniques for fabricating fibres, a discovery that led to explosive growth in optical communications and the basis of optical fibres that underpin the internet.
Further research by David Payne and his colleagues resulted in the development of the first telecommunications optical amplifier, the erbium-doped fibre amplifier. This changed the world of telecommunications once again and allowed transmission of huge quantities of information over transatlantic distances, which we know today as the global internet.
Copyright University of Southampton 2006