Will Hicks and His Contributions to Fiber Optics

Will_hicksWill Hicks, one of the greatest contributors to fiber optics, whose name is often associated with the founding fathers of fiber optics, passes away on February 14.. We at Fiber Optic Mania mourn at his demise. He was 91 years old and was a resident of Fiskdale, MA. He was born in 1924 in Greenville, SC. He left us by giving many remarkable contributions to the fiber optic community and thus to the whole humanity.

Born in 1924 in Greenville, Will Hicks was son of a judge who wanted to become a pianist. He majored in physics from Furman University in Greenville and started working on the Manhattan Project at the end of the World War II. He pursued his study in physics while working in Navy. He received a master degree in Physicis from University of California at Berkeley.In 1950 Hicks returned to South Carolina.

American intelligence agencies contacted Will Hicks after four years of his return from the Manhattan Project. During that time Hicks was in conflict with the state over tax issues. Will Hicks was at his 30s. American Intelligence agencies were not happy with the work of American Optical and were searching for talented people to launch American Optical Project.

The famous book on fiber optics “City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics” written by the pioneer Jeff Hecht describes Will Hicks’ association with CIA…..a 30 year old physicist from Greenville, South Carolina, studying textiles for the Milliken Research Trust. His background looked good, but CIA did not realize that Hicks had neither worked on fibers nor completed a course in optics. In the long run, that lack of background may have been a blessing because it helped him take a fresh approach. Hicks also brought incisive insight, tremendous energy, a quick mind, and a stubborn and independent nature.

Will Hicks’ contributions to fiber optics  include developments that lead to the invention of glass clad optical fibers and the development of single mode fibers. Will Hicks was one of the firsts to realize potential of single-mode fibers in optical communications networks. Will Hicks had contributed to the CIA project to develop fiber optic bundles. Fiber optic bundles were used to encode images for intelligence work. During that period, optical fibers were bare, that is without cladding. Light can easily escape from one bare fiber to another and thus leakage of data was possible. Hicks worked on development of cladding process so that clad fibers can bundle together.Will Hicks  succeeded in making fiber-optic faceplates.

Will Hicks left American Optical to found Mosaic Fabrications. He could  commercialize the fused fiber technology for military imaging system. He researched in fiber drawing that yielded some of the first generation single mode fibers. His contributions to fiber optic Christmas trees are also remarkable.

Jeff Hecht has written an article remembering Will Hicks in Laser Focus World. We salute Will Hicks and remember his valuable contributions to the fiber optics.


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