Relentless innovator behind the science of fibre optics

Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany—Rightly known as the Father of Fiber Optics

There are many scientists in India and overseas who have become popular due to their exceptional research, discovery, and service in the fields of science and technology. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany was posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India"s second-highest civilian award, for his significant contributions to fiber optics. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, an Indian-American scientist, is an unsung hero for his work on fiber optics. He is credited to be the inventor of fiber optics.

Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany: Education and work

  • Narinder Singh Kapany was born on October 31st, 1926 in a town named "Moga" in Punjab, India.

  • He completed his graduation from Agra University, after which he went on to pursue and complete his advanced studies in optics abroad.

  • He was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1955 at the Imperial College London

  • In 1961, Kapany founded a company named "Optics Technology Inc., which went public in 1967 with many acquisitions and joint ventures in the United States. For twelve years, Kapany was the chairman, director of research, and president.

  • He also founded two other companies—Kaptron Inc. in 1973 and Solarpath in 2010.

  • The time that Narinder spent in Chicago was one of the most productive in his life.

  • He received more than 100 patents for research on fiber optics and lasers with applications in various fields like biomedical, defense, communication, and pollution control.

  • Narinder did not stop here. He continued to file patents well into his 80s as well, this time for his research work on ways to harness solar energy.

Educating young minds

  • Narinder taught and supervised the research activities of postgraduate students.

  • He was a Regents Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

  • He was also the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development at UCSC for seven years.

  • He was a visiting scholar at the Physics Department and a consulting professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University.

The history of fiber optics

  • In the 1840s, the physicists Daniel Collodon and Jacques Babinet demonstrated that light could be directed along jets of water to create fountain displays. They showed that fiber optics was possible through this demonstration.

  • Nearly 12 years later, John Tyndall showed that light could travel through a curved stream of water, thus proving that light could bend.

  • In the 1920s, the radio experimenter Clarence Hansell and the television pioneer John Logie Baird demonstrated image transmission through tubes independently.

  • In 1930, Heinrich Lamm was the first individual to transmit an image through a bundle of optical fibers.

Always remembered his motherland and Sikh heritage.

  • Even though Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany left India when he was young, he never forgot his motherland, Sikh culture, heritage, and roots.

  • Whenever anyone from his hometown in Punjab visited him, the first thing that he would ask was "How is Punjab?"

  • Narinder played a key role in establishing a gurdwara in Yuba City, California in 1969.

  • Narinder collected 500+ pieces of Sikh art at auctions and from private galleries and collectors.

  • In 1967, Dr. Narinder built the Sikh foundation that displayed Sikh art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

  • The first permanent Sikh art galleries were established in the US and Canada.

  • Narinder epitomized Guru Nanak Devji"s teachings of "Kirat Karo, Naam Japo, Vand Chako" (earn honestly, meditate on God, and share with the needy).

The discovery of fiber optics

  • In school, Dr. Narinder"s teacher taught him that light travels in a straight line.

  • However, Narinder disproved this and demonstrated to the whole world that light could bend in 1955 by working with Harold Hopkin at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London.

  • He proved the conventional concept of science, i.e., that light travels in a straight line, wrong.

  • In his article published in 1960 in Scientific American, he cited that when light is allowed to pass from one end of a glass fiber, it emerges at the other end. Bundles of such glass fibers can be used to conduct images.

  • Narinder Singh Kapany also coined the term "fiber optics."

  • He laid the foundation and formed a trail for future researchers, scientists, and innovators who used his discovery to transform the world.

  • Through the discovery of fiber optics, he created a positive impact on the lives of people around the world.

In the 1950s, Narinder wanted to return to India, but the plan never materialized. In 2019, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany was nominated in the category of medicine for his inventions of various biomedical devices and instruments, which are widely used in the endoscopes, densitometers, high-resolution imaging, and minimally invasive surgery that we see today.

Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany was a multi-talented personality. He was not just a physicist and scientist, but also an entrepreneur, farmer, innovator, philanthropist, and an avid collector of Sikh heritage articles.

Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany left for his heavenly abode on 3rd December, 2020. He was 94. In 1999, Fortune magazine featured him as one of the "Unsung Heroes of the 20th century." Narinder Singh was a person who bent light in the true sense to transform the world.