Photo of Donald Keck

Donald Keck

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Communications

In 1970, Drs. Donald Keck, Robert Maurer, and Peter Schultz teamed up at the Corning Glass Corporation to co-invent low-loss fiber optic cable. Their invention has enabled the telecommunications revolution, rapidly transformed our society, the way we work, learn and live – and our expectations for the future. It is the basis for one of the largest, most dynamic industries in the world today.

Long before Donald Keck laid hands on fiber-optic cables, he was digging in the dirt with his father. As a teenager in the 1950s, Keck worked with his dad, a physicist himself, making and selling to local governments their own devices that could locate and measure groundwater.

But as Keck was earning his Ph.D. in physics from Michigan State University in the 1960s, he turned his attention to telecommunications, eventually joining forces with Robert Maurer and Peter Schultz at New York-based Corning Inc. in 1968. The three immediately broke ground in the field of fiber optics two years later when they discovered that titanium strengthened the properties of fiber-optic cables. Eventually the trio learned that introducing germanium into the mix helped prevent light from escaping the cables, and it was this discovery that effectively replaced copper wire with fiber optics as the principal means of communication and laid the groundwork for significant advancements in computer and television technology.

By Lauren Clason