Corps of Signals 100th Anniversary
1911 - 2011

Photographs and Report on 14th Reunion at Jablapur: 13- 15 Feb 2011

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

US Army Signal Corps Invents Glass Fiber Optics

The Inventors of Glass Fiber Optics at the US Army Signal Corps
The following information was submitted by Richard Sturzebecher, it was originally published in the Army Corp publication "Monmouth Message."
In 1958, at the US Army Signal Corps Labs in Fort Monmouth New Jersey, the Manager of Copper Cable and Wire hated the signal transmission problems caused by lightening and water. He encouraged the Manager of Materials Research, Sam DiVita, to find a replacement for copper wire. Sam thought glass fiber and light signals might work, but the engineers who worked for Sam told him a glass fiber would break! In September 1959, Sam DiVita asked 2nd Lt. Richard Sturzebecher if he knew how to write the formula for a glass fiber capable of transmitting light signals. (Sam had learned that Richard, who was attending the Signal School, had melted 3 triaxial glass systems, using SiO2, for his 1958 senior thesis at Alfred University under Dr. Harold Simpson, Professor of Glass Technology.)

Richard knew the answer. While using a microscope to measuring the index-of-refraction on SiO2 glasses, Richard developed a severe headache. The 60% and 70% SiO2 glass powders under the microscope allowed higher and higher amounts of brilliant, white light to pass through the microscope slide into his eyes. Remembering the headache and the brilliant white light from high SiO2 glass, Richard knew that the formula would be ultra pure SiO2. Richard also knew that Corning made high purity SiO2 powder, by oxidizing pure SiCl4 into SiO2. He suggested that Sam use his power to award a Federal Contract to Corning to develop the fiber.

Sam DiVita had already worked with Corning research people. But he had to make the idea public, because all research laboratories had a right to bid on a Federal contract. So, in 1961 and 1962, the idea of using high purity SiO2 for a glass fiber to transmit light was made public information in a bid solicitation to all research laboratories. As expected, Sam awarded the contract to the Corning Glass Works in Corning, New York in 1962. Federal funding for glass fiber optics at Corning was about $1,000,000 between 1963 and 1970. Signal Corps Federal funding of many research programs on fiber optics until 1985, thereby seeding this industry and making today's multibillion dollar industry that eliminates copper wire in communications a reality.
Today, at age 87, Sam DiVita still comes to work at the US Army Signal Corps every day.
The Inventors of Glass Fiber Optics at the US Army Signal Corps

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