Cover Learn more about the scientist honoured in today's Google Doodle (Photo: Getty images)

Reading this article on your 5G-enabled smartphone while multitasking your way through life? Thank today’s Google Doodle subject, Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr. Charles K Kao, born on this day 88 years ago.

Today, November 4, 2021, Google’s popular homepage Google Doodle honours Hong Kong-electrical engineer and forefather of the internet––and arguably life as we know it today––Charles K Kao. Read on for some key facts about this pioneering scientist and learn more about his long-lasting impact on Hong Kong society. 

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Who is Charles K Kao?

Born in China in 1933, Charles K Kao spent his childhood in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He completed his secondary education at St Joseph’s College in Central, before completing his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at Woolwich Polytechnic in London’s Greenwich.

What did Charles K Kao discover?

After graduating, Kao began working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Essex, UK, while also studying for a PhD at the prestigious University College London. While working at STL, Kao and his colleagues conducted research that led to them discovering the use of fibre optic cables as a fast and effective medium for telecommunication. The theories that they pioneered still underpin the approach behind today’s fibre optical communications. 

What else is Charles K Kao known for?

Following this discovery, in 1977, the first telephone network carried live signals via fibre optic cables. Kao then led the implementation of fibre optic cables worldwide––which still carry billions of bytes of data all around the world today––including the information that makes up this webpage! 

As well as being a pioneer of telecommunications, Kao also served as an educator and researcher in Hong Kong. He founded the Department of Electronics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1970 and served as vice-chancellor of the university from 1987-1996. Kao also co-founded the Independent Schools Foundation Academy (ISF) in Cyberport. 

Charles K Kao retired from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1996. He was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009 for his “study of the transmission of light in optical fibres and for fibre communication”. 

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004, in 2011 Charles and his wife Gwen founded the Charles K Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease, which continues to support those affected by the disease in Hong Kong today. In 2018, Kao passed away in September 2018 at Bradbury Hospice in Sha Tin.

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