Physicist and Entrepreneur
Born in Moga (Punjab), Narinder Kapany is often referred to as the ‘Father of Fiber Optics’. Having graduated from Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University (formerly Agra University), Kapany completed his PhD. at Imperial College London in 1955.
His illustrious career is a marriage between science and entrepreneurship. Although he has been heavily involved in management, academia, publishing, lecturing and farming, Kapany’s most significant contributions have come in the field of fiber optics. His inventions in the fields of fiber optics communications, biomedical instruments, solar energy and pollution monitoring, have enabled groundbreaking strides in various modern industries and have spurred further innovations.
Kapany has earned noteworthy recognition as an entrepreneur. He founded Optics Technology Inc. in 1960 and was the Chairman of the Board, President, and Director of Research for 12 years. Potential investors saw the company as an irresistible opportunity, and following corporate acquisitions and joint-ventures (at home and from abroad) the company went public in 1967. Optics Technology was not the only brainchild of Kapany. His enterprising nature kept him going. In 1973 Kapany founded Kaptron Inc. For 17 years, Kapany served as the President and Chief Executive Officer before he sold the company to AMP Incorporated. AMP recognized Kapany’s value and kept him on as a ‘fellow’. As the head of the Intrapreneur & Technical Expert Program and Chief Technologist for Global Communications, he stimulated innovative product designs and marketing techniques. In 2000, he founded K2 Optronics, designing and engineering external cavity lasers. By developing optoelectronic components for metro, extended-reach, and long-haul telecommunications markets, K2 serves cable television, communications, sensing, and test and measurement industries. Yet again, in 2006, EMCORE Corporation – a leading provider of compound semiconductor-based components and subsystems for broadband, fiber optics, satellite, and wireless communications – finalized its acquisition of K2. EMCORE projected high profitability and their decision rapidly paid dividends.
Having built all these successful companies, Kapany saw himself as a “man of changed priorities”. He embarked on a teaching career, supervising research undertaken by postgraduate students. He started off at University of California Berkeley (UCB) and Santa Cruz (UCSC) as a Regents Professor, and assumed the position of Director of the Center for Innovation at UCSC for a period of 7 years. He then moved on to Stanford University, where he served as a visiting scholar in the Physics department and as a consulting professor in the department of electrical engineering.
Kapany undertook extensive work as a research scholar during his career. He has published over 150 scientific papers and four deeply insightful books on entrepreneurship and opto-electronics. In fact, the term ‘Fiber Optics’ itself was established in one of his early publications in 1960. He regularly addressed various national and international scientific societies on different subjects too.
Kapany has been active as a philanthropist too. As the founding chairman of the Sikh Foundation, he has been an integral part of all its activities. The foundation enthusiastically endorses the arts and programs in publishing academia. Kapany acknowledges the extreme sacrifices made by his ancestors to ensure religious freedom and echoes inspiration based on the achievements made by Sikhs in the modern era. He iterates equal respect and responsibility to people of all faiths and emphasizes how Sikh culture is anti-chauvinistic, patient and inclusive. To further spread these teachings, he also endowed a Chair of Sikh Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Kapany is an art-fanatic. He not only collects Sikh art but dabbles in design as well. As an artist he has created forty ‘dynoptic’ structures. His collections and works have been showcased in various parts of the US and the world. In the late 1990s, he gifted $500,000 to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to establish a gallery, donating exhibits from his personal collections.
Kapany’s excellence in entrepreneurship, management, innovation, research and philanthropic work have garnered him with several accolades. He received ‘The Excellence 2000 Award’ form the USA Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce in 1998. In 1999, his scientific genius was recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s ‘Unsung Heroes’ in their ‘Businessman of the Century’ issue. In 2004, the Indian government bestowed upon him the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Samman’, which honors outstanding and meritorious contribution overseas. He also serves as a distinguished fellow of prestigious societies, including the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the Optical Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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