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OSA | Living History

Donald B. Keck

Donald Keck, Robert Maurer, and Peter Schultz at Corning after making the first low-loss optical fibers. ©Corning Incorporated

OSA Awards & Distinctions

 OSA Honorary Member Donald Keck was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1941. As Keck grew up, his father, a physicist, and his mother, a teacher, created an environment that encouraged creativity and learning. During high school, Keck began working for his father’s company, where he helped build a number of instruments used to monitor wells and groundwater. After graduating, he enrolled at Michigan State University (MSU) and was going to study electrical engineering. However, a conversation with his father regarding the narrow nature of electrical engineering caused Keck to change his major to physics.  He graduated from MSU with a B.S. and an M.S. in physics in 1962 and 1964, respectively.

For his doctoral research, Keck studied molecular spectroscopy with C. D. Hawes and received a Ph.D. in physics in 1967 from MSU. A strong economy meant bright job prospects for the graduate. After visiting several companies and government labs, Keck took a position at Corning Inc. in 1968 working with Robert Maurer. Within a year, the collaborative work of Keck, Maurer and Peter Schultz would make important contributions to fiber optics.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that adding titanium to fused silica strengthened the glass fiber and enhanced its optical properties. They later doped the glass with germanium. This step reduced the amount of light lost as a signal traveled through the fiber. Their work helped establish optical fiber, rather than copper, as the key conduit to transmit information.

Keck became vice president and executive director of research at Corning where he worked until his retirement in 2002. For their discovery, Keck, Maurer, and Schultz received the National Medal of Technology in 2000. Keck holds 36 patents and has authored more than 150 papers on optical fibers and related topics.

During his career, Keck received an honorary degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fall. He received the John Tyndall award from OSA and the IEEE/Photonics Society, the U.S. Department of Commerce American Innovator Award, the SPIE Technology Achievement Award, and Laurin Publishing’s Distinction in Photonics Award.
Keck served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Lightwave Technology and generously donated his time to the OSA community. Most notable among his contributions: Keck chaired both the Finance Committee and the Executive Committee of OSA’s Science and Engineering Council. He also served on the Board of Directors, the Board of Editors, a number of awards committees, and was on the OFC/NFOEC Steering Committee.

After retirement, Keck helped established the Infotonics Technology Center in Canandaigua, New York. In 2010 the center merged with the Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology. The new entity is known as the Smart System Technology and Commercialization Center.

In 2012, he was named an Honorary Member of the Optical Society for breakthrough contributions to the field of optical communications, including the invention of the first low-loss optical fiber, and for a history of service to OSA.  He has served on the OSA Foundation Board.


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Document Created: 12 Jun 2013
Last Updated: 2 Jul 2019