Robert Tkach


Robert Tkach
Associated organizations
Bell Labs
Fields of study
Fiber optics
IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal, Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award, IEEE/OSA John Tyndall Award, Marconi International Fellowship Award


The insight of Andrew R. Chraplyvy and Robert W. Tkach into understanding and overcoming the limitations of nonlinearities in optical fiber communications systems revolutionized the telecommunications industry by providing the speed and capacity needed for today’s demanding data transmission. Optical communications involves transmitting information as pulses of light as are converted into words, imaged, and sounds upon reception. When using multiple wavelengths on a single optical fiber, nonlinearities can occur that garble the pulses of data. Working at Bell Labs, Drs. Chraplyvy and Tkach recognized that these nonlinear effects limit the capacity and transmission distances of optical communication systems. The pair developed the dispersion management concept to combat the effects of these optical nonlinearities. The success of their work has provided the high-capacity, high-speed transmission systems that serve as the backbone of the Internet and modern telecommunications systems. Drs. Chraplyvy and Tkach also developed a new type of optical fiber known as non-zero dispersion shifted fiber. This was adopted by AT&T and later Lucent Technologies as TrueWave Fiber and has become an industry standard. Over 70 million kilometers of this fiber has been installed worldwide and is a key component of most transoceanic lightwave submarine cable systems. The pair’s accomplishments have enabled wavelength division multiflexing fiber transmission systems with capacities beyond 1 Tb/s per fiber, representing a 100-fold increase in transmission capacity in a 10-year period.

Drs. Chraplyvy and Tkach are both IEEE Fellows and Fellows of the Optical Society of America. They are both members of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. Their many honors include the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award (1999), the IEEE/OSA John Tyndall Award (2003 and 2008, respectively) the Marconi International Fellowship Award (2009), and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal “For contributions to the science and technology of optical communications enabling high-speed wavelength division multiplexing through the mitigation of the effects of fiber nonlinearity.”