In Memory of Dr. Narinder S Kapany

Born on 31st Oct....

Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, widely known as the father of fiber optics, passed away peacefully in Woodside, California on December 3rd, 2020.

In 1953, working alongside Harold Hopkins at Imperial College London, Dr. Kapany was the first to successfully transmit high quality images through fiber bundles. He coined the term “fiber optics” in a famous 1960 article for Scientific American. “When light is directed into one end of a glass fiber,” Dr. Kapany wrote, “It will emerge at the other end. Bundles of such fibers can be used to conduct images.” His breakthrough achievements helped create a foundational element of the internet age, affecting the lives and businesses of everyone around the world.

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Born on 31st Oct. 1926 in the town of Moga, Punjab-India, Kapany grew up in the Himalayan foothill city of Dehradun and graduated in 1948 from Agra University, later receiving his doctorate from Imperial College London in 1955. He married Satinder Kaur, and the couple soon migrated to the United States where he first worked at Rochester University and then at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

In 1961, the couple moved to Woodside where Kapany founded Optics Technology Inc. successfully taking it public in 1967. He was the first Sikh Indian to take a company public in Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Examiner, in February 1969, described him as “…the most dashing corporate officer in the area”. Subsequently, he founded Kaptron Inc. in 1973, which was later acquired by AMP Inc. In 1999, he was named one of seven “unsung heroes” in Fortune magazine’s “Businessmen of the Century” issue.

Dr. Kapany wrote four books on fiber optics and entrepreneurship. His seminal research in fiber optics, lasers, and solar energy, and their applications in bio-medical instruments, defense, communications, and pollution-monitoring earned him more than 100 patents. In 1979, Dr. Kapany created the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development at the University of California Santa Cruz where he also later endowed a Chair in Opto-Electronics. He was also a Regents Professor at UC Berkeley, a visiting scholar at Stanford University and served on the Board of Trustees at both the University of California Santa Cruz and Menlo School. A member of numerous scientific societies, Dr. Kapany was a fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the Optical Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Dr. Kapany was a noted philanthropist, deeply committed to championing Sikh culture and language. He created the Sikh Foundation in 1967 which pioneered the display of Sikh arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Rubin Museum in New York. He established the first permanent Sikh art gallery in the United States at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and in Canada at the Montreal Museum of Art. In noting those accomplishments, Dr. Nikky-Guninder Singh, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at Colby College, commented that the Sikh world has “lost a visionary leader and a passionate promoter of our art, history, culture, and literature.”

Dr. Kapany received numerous awards including The Excellence 2000 Award from the USA Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce in 1998, the Pravasi Bharati Award by the Indian Government in 2008, an Honorary Doctorate by the Guru Nanak Dev University, the Fiat Lux Award by the University of California in 2008 and the Asia Game Changer West Award in 2019. 

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Narinder Kapany was a man of enormous intellect, boundless energy, and a lovely loud and infectious laugh. His passionate commitment to science and Sikh art left an indelible impact. His limitless curiosity, ferocious engagement in most everything, and his delightful laughter added light and warmth to the world. He spent the last year writing his memoirs, The Man Who Bent Light, and we hope to make that available by spring 2021.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Satinder Kapany and is survived by his son Rajinder Singh Kapany, daughter Kiran Kaur Kapany, and his four grandchildren Ariana, Misha, Tara, and Nikki.

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Condolence Messages:

“We are all grieved to learn about the sad demise of your dear father, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany. On this occasion I fondly recall my old association with him in many meetings discussing important issues….I think our best tribute to Dr. Kapany would be to finish some of the projects that he had envisaged and promote Sikh studies among the diaspora for better understanding and peaceful co-existence.” – Dr. Manmohan Singh, ex-Prime Minister, India
(Click here to view the letter)

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“His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani is sorry to receive news of the passing of Dr. N.S Kapany. He would like to send his condolences to Dr. Kapany’s family, as well as to his friends and colleagues. He hopes that they will be comforted in the knowledge that he has made such a profound difference to people’s lives through both his professional achievements, and through the generosity of his cultural and philanthropic endeavours.” – His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani through Matthew Paton (Paton Arts)

“May God rest his soul, Amen. My most sincere condolences to you and to the Kapany family. We were truly blessed to have known him.” – Paul Michael Taylor

“Indeed it’s a terribly tragic moment for the Sikh world. We have lost a visionary leader, a passionate promoter of our art, history, culture, literature, a  phenomenal human being!” – Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh

“My prayers for the peace of the parted soul and heartfelt condolences to all at the Sikh Foundation. A critical chapter of Sikh history in the U.S. has come to close.” – Gurinder Singh Mann

“It’s such sad news and we have truly lost a legend. Its an end of an era and it so true, but his legacy will live on through his work and Foundation.” – Peter Bance

“May he rest in peace, this lover and humble servant of the Gurus.”- Arpana Caur

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“I was saddened by his departure. We all have to go one day. But Dr. Kapany was a stalwart who was the force behind all Sikh Studies Chairs. We will miss him. He was larger than life.” – Pashaura Singh

“My deep and sincere condolences.  Dr. Kapany was in so many ways an inspiration. I have lost a dear friend and mentor.” – Fakir Aijazuddin

“We pray that Satguru grants peace to the departed soul and courage to you all to bear this loss with fortitude. I think our best tribute to Dr.Kapany would be to promote the values which were dear to him.” – Mohinder Singh

“May Waheguru bless him with “Parmatma dae charna vich nivas”. Waheguru sanoo Bhana munan dal bal bakhsae. My condolences to the family and Sikh Foundation.” –  Bhupinder (Bo) Singh

“My deepest condolences and also convey my condolences to his family, his son Rajinder and daughter Kiran. May his soul rest in peace with the Akal Purakh.” – Anshu Malhotra

“Dr. Kapany Ji, final sat sri akaal! Really he changed my life…..Our Art bridge…Thanks Dr sahib all your efforts.”- Sukhpreet Singh, Artist

“I am lucky and grateful and honored to have met him that one time. He was a towering figure, historically, intellectually, spiritually and so much more. He put me in tune with my own heritage, a part of myself that I had never really contemplated too much.” – Gary Singh

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