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Happy 88th Birthday, Charles K. Kao: Celebrating an Inventor Who Changed the World

Charles K. Kao

Charles K. Kao was born in Guangzhou on September 23rd, 1928, the second son of a rich family in Kowloon. As he describes in his autobiography, the Kao family were accomplished in business, but they were very poor and had very poor social status in general. His mother died in 1924 after giving birth to the twins. His father remarried a second time, and from 1927 he placed two precocious children under the care of relatives, two of whom died. Charles K. Kao was sent to the local Christian Orphanage when he was six years old, to live with orphaned relatives. Charles was always interested in machines, and he was allowed to repair typewriters and instruments. Charles’s name was changed to Tan Kao Hing, the Chinese equivalent of Theodore Roosevelt.

The invention of Fiber Optics

Happy 88th Birthday, Charles K. Kao: Celebrating an Inventor Who Changed the World by Selena Larson

On May 12, Charles Kao, one of the most influential and honored inventors and engineers of our time, turns 88 years old. Kao is best known for inventing the fiber-optic cable. In doing so, he has made the world a more connected and digitally-connected place. He has also helped to power new and innovative technologies in medicine, communications, science, electronics and biotechnology.

The commencement speaker at the first all-male co-ed graduation ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955, Kao is renowned for inventing the fiber-optic cable that forms the basis for every fiber-optic communication in the world.

Fiber-optics-based technologies are ubiquitous today.

Impact on Agriculture

For more information about Dr. Kao and the Mission of the National Agricultural Library, please visit

Established as a national research library in 1925, the National Agricultural Library (NAL) is the national library for agricultural sciences. The library serves more than 1,000,000 farmers, including many smallholder farmers who make up about 60 percent of the world’s farmers.

To learn more about the work of the Charles and Frances Kao Foundation, visit our page.

We also have a video about Kao’s life and work in honor of his 88th birthday.

To learn more about the foundation, click here.

Impact on Communication

The great engineer Charles Kao passed away yesterday at the age of 88 in his Palo Alto, California home.

It’s almost incomprehensible how his inventions—signals for digital television (DVB-T), the first data server, and the first cross-platform video conferencing system (VeriFace)—have been able to change the world.

Since 1989, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has bestowed the European Telecommunications Awards on Charles Kao, an icon of the European space industry, for his contribution to broadband and video technologies. He was the first recipient of the ETSI Gold Medal in 2003. He became an ETSI Fellow in 1999.

It’s a tribute to the visionary’s work and to all the people around the world who have benefited.

Impact on the Economy

From running Microsoft’s economic development efforts to his inventions, the impact of Kao was wide-reaching. “The Microsoft founder was lauded for inventing MS-DOS, which helped speed up the personal computer revolution, and he started one of the most successful venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins. “Kao oversaw Microsoft’s economic development programs in China and Korea. He was the executive vice president of U.S. operations at Sun Microsystems, and an early investor in Microsoft and He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and was inducted into the U.S. Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2005.”

Access to Capital for Startup

According to Elizabeth Anderson, CEO, Techstars: “Mr.


It is worth observing that only a tiny percentage of 1,460 Nobel laureates are women, even in fields traditionally dominated by women. Of the nine women who have been honored with the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for example, only one of them is a Chinese. She is Tu Youyou, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Despite this gender gap, Chinese women have achieved great things in science, business and politics. Since the early 1970s, the number of female Nobel laureates has doubled, from about 30 percent to 60 percent.

In 1980, a little-known University of Science and Technology of China graduate named Lu Yashu (1919-2012) made history by becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

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