The Information and Communication Technology field includes the many forms of communication and all the equipment needed to connect people around the world. As you well know, it is central to civilization.
A pivotal part of this field is fiber optics; although the term may sound like a recent innovation, people have been experimenting with the concept for over 200 years.
When it comes to transmitting signals, fiber optic cables are far superior to wire cables. They are not wireless signals, as is the case with cellphones; however, the speed is second to none.
Notwithstanding the great advancement they represent, fiber optic cables are prone to breakage. Once again, the sea sponge offers us a solution to vastly improve our lives.
Let me show you how an ancient creature is helping us improve one of our best technologies.
A Brief History
Since the 1800s humans have been tinkering with light refraction, which is crucial for the use of fiber optics. In the 1800’s physicists demonstrated that light could be guided via jets of water; resulting in some eye dazzling fountain displays.
Another experiment that would prove very important to the burgeoning Information and Communication Technology field took place on 1870. John Tyndall further showed that light could be refracted. He designed an experiment in which a jet of water flowed from one container to another; and when he aimed a beam of sunlight at the water, a zigzag path of light was observed (Radiant Communications Corporation).
The term “fiber optics” did not come to be used until the middle of the 20th century. The first useful fiber optic cable was designed in the 1950s – this milestone further propelled the field forward.
Introductions of the of the laser, as well as LED technology allowed the light source to be small enough to create the necessary light in order to make the fibers functional.
After the 1960s the technology rapidly grew. By the late 70s fibers were able to transmit light pulses over greater distances without the signal loosing strength.
By the beginning of the next decade, the issues were largely taken care of, making it possible to use fiber optic cables to transmit the Winter Olympics of that year with great success.
The proliferation of computer technology also saw a great potential for fiber optic cables; these could carry a greater deal of information than the standard copper wires.
By the turn of the century, copper wires had become almost obsolete. The World Wide Web owes its success to the spread of fiber optic cable use around the world.
Show Me The Light
Currently, there are three ways in which information travels. When we are using a landline telephone, the sound of our voice is converted into an electrical signal and carried through a wire cable and onto a switchboard that relays the signal to the party you wish to communicate with. While we are using a cellphone, the sound of your voice is also converted to an electrical signal; the signal is carried by invisible radio waves to the cellphone tower. From there it is directed to the other person’s cellphone, where it’s converted back to sound.
Another way we transmit information is by the use of fiber optics technology. The given signal is encoded in a beam of light, and travels via a glass or plastic tube at two-thirds the speed of light (Explain That Stuff!) – this is especially useful for long distance communication. The reason for the slow down from the speed of light is that a fiber optic cable is not a vacuum, such as it is the case in outer space.
Fiber optic cables are able to transmit a vast amount of information when compared to traditional copper wires – this is due to its minuscule size. One cable consists of unbelievably thin filaments of glass or plastic known simply as optical fibers. Each individual strand is one tenth the thickness of a human hair; and each optical cable can have between two to several hundred fibers.
Twenty five thousand calls can be carried by a single strand. That means an entire fiber-optic cable is able to carry a few million calls. To put it in perspective, in 2009 there were an average of 8.6 billion calls a day; that was followed by 4 billion calls a day in 2011 and 6 billion calls a day in 2012 (Quora).
The advent of the optic fiber has ushered humanity into our present day information age. It’s exciting to imagine where humanity is headed now that vast libraries of information are held in the palm of one’s hand. There’s much truth to the adage that Knowledge is Power. Thus, this technology has the potential to vastly increase a person’s individual volition. Making freedom and self-actualization more likely than ever for the greatest number of people in human history.
Yet again, nature is inspiring innovation in technology; this time it involves the fiber optic cable and a sea sponge called the glass sponge. It has been reported in the journal Nature that this sponge (Euplectella) has outgrowths which are similarly structured to that of fiber optic cable strands; however, they are much more resistant to breakage (Scientific American).
These projections known as spicules, are made of silica – the same material in the glass which makes up fiber optic cables. Spicules form the skeleton of most sea sponges; they offer support and protection, as they make the sponge very difficult to swallow to a potential predator.
In the case of the glass sponge, the spicules are made of the same material found in the glass used to make fiber optic cables – they are also comparable in size.
When tested for optical properties the spicules were found to have a similar index of refraction when compared to fiber optic cables. This means that the glass in the sponge can carry information just as efficiently as any man-made cable.
While it requires extremely high temperatures, (3,452 to 3,992 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,900 to 2,200 degrees Celsius), to make the fiber optic strands, the glass sponge can produce a superior glass at the normal temperature of sea water.
I have always marveled at the wonders of nature as I’m sure you have as well. The glass sponge is a perfect example of this wonder.
Nature never ceases to amaze; it always seems to catch me off guard and remind me that it understands itself far better than we know it. Perhaps, if we once again realize that we are part of nature, and not simple consumers of it, then our understanding will increase greatly.
Glass sponges are a unique group of sponges in the class Hexactinellida. Their eccentricity is due to the fact that their spicules (used for structural support and protection) are made of the same material we used to make glass – silica. In a few species the spicules grow to such proportions as to fuse together to create a “glass house.” This structure forms a complex skeleton, which often stays intact even after the sponge has died.
The most popular of the glass sponges is the Venus flower basket (Euplectella). It’s skeleton grows in such a way as to entrap a specific species of crustacean. The sponge does not eat the shrimp-like Stenopodidea, but instead houses the male and female for life. While the pair take care of the house cleaning the sponge provides them with food through its waste.
When the pair breed, their offspring are small enough to escape the glass sponge and find a new glass house to become its guests for life.
Fiber optic cables are central to the great success the Information and Communication Technology field has seen in the last two hundred years. From demonstrating that light could be guided through jets of water to the advent of lasers and LED lights, the constant push to make communication faster has resulted in today’s fiber optic cables.
Unlike traditional copper wires that use electrical signals, fiber optic cables use pulses of light to carry information. Whether that’s your voice or computer networking. Light is the fastest thing in the known universe, and thus can carry information through an optic cable at three quarters of the speed of light.
For this reason, fiber optic cables can carry an incredible amount of information when compared to standard copper wires.
Though fiber optic cables have indeed revolutionized communication, the glass is subject to breakage. Moreover, extremely high temperatures are needed to manufacture the glass itself.
The glass sponge develops a superior glass that is resistant to breaking; in addition, it does so under normal sea water temperatures. A superior product that’s takes much less energy to make, speaks of a higher intelligence that is found in nature.
The glass sponge itself is a phenomenal creature. Its sheer beauty is only matched by mission its purpose in life. Its skeleton grows in such a pattern as to form a beautiful “glass house” that welcomes a pair of shrimps. The pair will never leave, however. Rather, they will remain, grow and even breed inside the glass sponge.
The captives don’t feel imprisoned and instead make the glass sponge their home.
How do you think the glass sponge will improve our Information and Communication technologies?
What role do you see nature playing in the development of technology in the future?
Do you work in the Information and Communications field? If so, how do you see it evolving in the
How do you feel about the wonder of the glass sponge and it’s amazing ability to make a superior glass at
normal sea temperatures?
Please, leave your comment below.
Thank you for stopping by,