23 September 2018

Mourning Professor Sir Charles Kao, former Vice-Chancellor of CUHK and Father of Fibre Optics

Professor Sir Charles K. Kao, the third Vice-Chancellor, Honorary Professor of Engineering, and Doctor of Science, honoris causa, of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physics, GBM, passed away on 23 September 2018, at the age of 84. CUHK is profoundly saddened and conveys its deepest condolences to his family.  

Professor Rocky S. Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President of CUHK, said, “Professor Kao was a brilliant scholar and visionary leader in higher education. As the third Vice-Chancellor, he spearheaded the advancement of CUHK in its formative years, laying down a fertile ground for the growth of talents, and made remarkable achievements during his tenure. His impeccable strive for excellence in science and technology led to his groundbreaking accomplishments in the area of fibre optics, which brought forth the development of the internet and opened a new page in the history of telecommunications. Professor Kao's passing is a great loss to CUHK, Hong Kong, and the global academia. All of us at CUHK will remember his immense contributions to the University and to the world. I sincerely offer our deepest condolences to Professor Kao's family on behalf of the teachers, students and alumni of CUHK.”  

Born in Shanghai in 1933, Professor Kao studied in St. Joseph's College in Hong Kong before he went to the University of London, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree and his PhD in electrical engineering. He served in various leading telecommunications companies in the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1966, he published a paper which proposed using glass fibres as a conductor for optic communication, ushering in the era of optic fibre communication. Professor Kao joined CUHK in 1970 as Reader and Chair of the then new Department of Electronics (later renamed Department of Electronic Engineering), and was appointed as the first Professor of Electronics. He was conferred the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, by CUHK in 1985. He was Vice-Chancellor of CUHK from 1987-1996. Upon his retirement, Professor Kao was appointed Honorary Professor of Engineering.  

During his nine-year term as CUHK's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kao's visionary insight resulted in the establishment of the Faculty of Engineering in 1991 which brought two existing (computer science and electronic engineering) and two new (information engineering and systems engineering) departments together to combine  their strengths and focus on education and research. The solid foundation laid down for the Faculty has served CUHK well in subsequent years. In addition, Professor Kao also established the Faculty of Education and a number of research institutes, laying a firm academic infrastructure for CUHK to develop into a world-class, comprehensive, research-driven institution of higher education. From an enrollment of just over 7,000 in 1987, CUHK's student number rose to around 13,000 in 1996. He brought to completion the establishment of the University's fourth Constituent College, Shaw College.  

As the pioneer of the application of fibre optics in the area of communications technologies, Professor Kao's research has transformed telecommunication, bringing improvements in communication flow that addressed the needs of the global community. Thus, the internet has become an indispensable technology in the everyday life of  citizens around the world, particularly in global communication. Professor Kao is recognised worldwide as the ‘Father of Fibre Optics' and was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for his accomplishment in the development of fibre optic technologies that changed the world. He was also awarded The Prince Philip Medal by the Royal Society of Engineering in 1996 in recognition of his scientific achievements. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1997.  Professor Kao was honoured with the CBE in 1993 and the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2010 and was knighted in that same year.  

Professor Kao was honoured through various prizes, including the Stuart Ballantine Medal, Franklin Institute, USA; the L.M. Ericsson International Prize, Sweden; the US-Asia Institute Achievement Award; the Alexander Graham Bell Medal, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; the Faraday Medal, Institute of Electrical Engineers, UK; an Honorary Doctorate, Soka University of Japan; the Medal of Engineering Excellence, World Federation of Engineering Organizations; the Japan Prize in the Field of Information, Computer and Communication Systems, The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan; the Prince Philip Medal, Fellowship of Engineering, The Royal Academy of Engineering, UK; Doctor of Telecommunications Engineering, honoris causa, The University of Padova, Italy; the Charles Stark Draper Prize, National Academy of Engineering, USA; the International Lecture Medal, The Institution of Electrical Engineers, UK; Leader of the Year 2002 – Innovation Technology Category, Sing Tao, HK; the Millennium Outstanding Engineer Award, HK; the la Citta di Padova, and the Gold Medal Award of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. A minor planet found by the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was named after him as ‘Kaokuen'. 

Professor Kao was closely associated with CUHK for nearly half a century. Since the founding of the Department of Electronics in 1970 by Professor Kao, CUHK has established itself as one of the world's leading universities in optical communication research. During his term as Vice-Chancellor, research thrived at CUHK and research institutes proliferated in all disciplines. He also made significant and progressive changes in the University. His scientific and technological contributions continue to be praised by the world for the lasting changes they have brought to communication for human kind, for bringing human beings closer together and for significant changes in society. The great contributions made by Professor Kao will remain forever as his legacy.

A place for condolence will be set up on the CUHK campus for the public to sign in and record their messages of condolences and pay their last respect to Professor Kao. The details are as follow:

Date: From 24 September 2018 to 24 October 2018 


Mondays to Fridays

9:00 am – 8:00 pm


9:00 am – 6:00 pm


1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Venue: University Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin (located at the main entrance of the University Library)

Transportation: A shuttle bus running between MTR University Station (outside Exit A) and the Central Steps 


In Memory of Professor Sir Charles Kao (1933 - 2018)
In Memory of Professor Sir Charles Kao (1933 - 2018)

Professor Sir Charles Kao and Lady Kao
Professor Sir Charles Kao and Lady Kao

Professor Sir Charles Kao and Lady Kao
Professor Sir Charles Kao and Lady Kao

Professor Sir Charles Kao
Professor Sir Charles Kao