fiber optics, transmission of digitized messages or information by light pulses along hair-thin glass or plastic fibers. Each fiber is surrounded by a cladding having a high index of refractance so that the light is internally reflected and travels the length of the fiber without escaping. Cables of optical fibers can be made smaller and lighter than cables using copper wires or coaxial tubes, yet they can carry much more information, making them useful for transmitting large amounts of data between computers and for carrying data-intensive television pictures or many simultaneous phone conversations. Optical fibers are immune to electromagnetic interference (from lightning, nearby electric motors, and similar sources) and to crosstalk from adjoining wires, and tapping into them is more easily detected. To keep a signal from deteriorating, optical fibers require fewer repeaters over a given distance than does copper wire. In addition to communications, optical fibers are used in medical procedures, automobiles, aircraft and many other applications. In 2009 Charles K. Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for determining that purer glass was what was needed to create optical fibers that could transmit light over longer distances than the 20 meters that was possible in 1966. His insight led to the Corning Glass Works' development in 1970 of long, ultrapure glass fibers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.