Fiber-optics consist of a bundle of thin glass or plastic strands. This is coated or surrounded in material that allows light to pass through the fibers without escaping out the sides. Signals can pass through them at very high speeds from the point of origin to the destination, with minimal loss in quality or data. Companies use fiber-optics to transmit Internet data, audio information for telephones, and images for television or medical cameras.
The concept behind fiber-optics is fairly simple. A user transmits a signal as light, often in the form of a laser beam, through a length of thin strands of glass or plastic. The optical fiber acts as the medium through which the light passes, while a coating on the outside of each strand keeps the light trapped within the fiber. People can send just about any type of digital data through fiber-optics, though conversion for some signals may be necessary.
Telephones and Internet signals are often transmitted through fiber-optics. Companies simply convert phone audio signals into digital information, which can then be sent as light transmissions through the fibers. Many services convert the data into a binary signal of ones and zeroes, which they relay through pulses of light. Once a phone or other device receives the signal, it converts it back into audio information that the listener on the other end hears. Internet providers transmit data in much the same way, with computers converting digital signals into visible or auditory output.
Uses in Medicine
In 1930, a German student named Heinrich Lamm demonstrated how fiber-optics could be used to examine internal body parts. Since the images were unclear, however, he did not receive a patent for his invention. Additional developments have made optical fibers ideal for cameras and other devices used by medical professionals to view the internal organs of a patient. Since they are small and flexible, they can often reach areas that might otherwise be impossible to view without surgery.
Alexander Graham Bell, in 1880, demonstrated how light could be used to transfer sounds from one area to another. A few decades later, the first sets of bundled cables were developed, though they were not called "fiber-optics" at the time. In 1956, Narinder Kapany coined the term after bundling a few glass rods together. He then demonstrated that these rods could project light without leaking at any point, as long as they were wrapped or coated in a dark material.
By 1960, Dr. Charles Kao realized the potential of fiber-optics. He suggested that they could be used for fast, clear communications. In the 1970s, a company called Corning® Glass created the first optical fiber made entirely of thin strands of glass. This led to Bell Telephone using these fibers to make telephone cables that could transmit crystal clear conversations from one side of the US to the other.