The University of Southampton

Royal Mail launches 'Inventive Britian' stamps including fibre optics

Published: 20 February 2015

Royal Mail has announced the launch of the ‘Inventive Britain’ Special Stamp set, issued to mark a long and rich history of Britain as an inventive nation.

The stamps depict striking photographs and computer-generated interpretations of inventions created by British inventors over the last century, among them Fibre Optics, an invention in which the University of Southampton has played a major role in developing and continues to conduct world-leading research into.

Fibre Optics has been pivotal in developing the communications network we have around the world today: a network of millions of kilometres of optical 'cable' transmitting vast quantities of data at incredible speeds - the internet. Each optical 'cable' made up of bundles of optical fibres – very thin fibres of purified glass through which pulses of laser light travel, carrying digital information. 

Charles Kao and George Hockham from Harlow’s Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) first demonstrated the potential of fibre-optic communication in I966. In 1975, David Payne and Alec Gambling from the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) developed new fabrication techniques to produce ultra-pure fibres. Their developments led to an explosive growth in optical communications, a truly world-changing phenomenon.

Then in 1987, David Payne announced to the world the invention of the first practical optical amplifier. This made long-distance optical communications practical, as many signals could be easily sent hundreds of miles without requiring electronic conversion. The effect was to make huge amounts of bandwidth available at low cost over very long distances. This was a major pre-requisite for the formation of the Internet as it is today.

Matt Posner, Outrearch director for the ORC said: "It’s a great initiative from Royal Mail to raise awareness of the important technologies that are forming the current era of communication. Obviously, it comes at a timely moment to celebrate the International Year of Light and raise awareness of the importance of light-based technologies."

Both Fibre Optics and Catseyes stamps are Royal Mail’s contribution to the UN International Year of Light

The University of Southampton is a Gold sponsor for the International Year of Light.

Read the full Royal Mail story for all the 'Inventive Britain' stamps launched.

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