2020 NIHF Inductee Dana Bookbinder: The Imaginative Chemist

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2020 NIHF Inductee Dana Bookbinder: The Imaginative Chemist

Dana Bookbinder co-invented the bend-insensitive ClearCurve® optical fiber. Because it can bend without significant signal loss, this invention has reached locations previously inaccessible to optical fiber and has advanced data transmission across an array of industries. In recognition of this revolutionary work, Bookbinder and his colleagues, Ming-Jun Li and Pushkar Tandon, will join the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) as members of our 2020 Inductee class.


Discovering the Joy of Science

Bookbinder was born in 1956 in Providence, Rhode Island, and his family moved frequently during his childhood. He attended a dozen different schools in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Illinois, where he was happy to meet new people with interesting and innovative ideas.

No matter where he moved, Bookbinder maintained a sense of curiosity, a love of science, and a drive to tinker, take things apart and create inventions. With his two brothers or with his friends, he often found old TVs, radios and appliances to take home and reassemble, turning these devices into something completely new.

When he entered college, Bookbinder’s interest in science led him to study chemistry. He earned a bachelor of science degree in organic chemistry from Northern Illinois University, followed by a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 


Advancing Communication

After working for several years at GE Plastics as a research and development scientist, Bookbinder joined Corning Incorporated in 1991. During his time at the company, he began working with fellow researchers Li and Tandon, with whom he would develop bend-insensitive ClearCurve® optical fiber.

Before the emergence of optical fiber, copper wire was the standard means of transmitting phone calls and data over long distances. While copper uses electric current, optical fiber works by sending pulses of light. Light travels in a straight line unless there is a way to steer it around a bend, so optical fiber cables initially were most useful for long-distance data transmissions that ran straight cables from a central source to boxes outside of buildings, and data was then transmitted through conventional copper wires into homes and businesses. Any conventional fiber that contained tight bends suffered from substantial signal loss. With ClearCurve optical fiber, Bookbinder, Li and Tandon eliminated this problem.

Introduced by Corning in 2007, ClearCurve optical fiber can be used in locations where optical fiber installation had not previously been possible because it can be bent to small diameters and around tight corners. Key to industries such as telecommunications and computer networking, bend-insensitive optical fiber has helped make video streaming services common in businesses and homes, and it supports the growing demand for internet services including cloud computing and data storage.

Bend-insensitive optical fiber technology has had a broad impact, contributing to connections and communication for better learning and creativity in fields including science, engineering, art, music, literature, medicine and business.

Along with Li and Tandon, Bookbinder has won several distinguished awards for ClearCurve optical fiber. In 2018, he retired from Corning as a Corporate Fellow.


Sharing the Magic of Chemistry

In addition to earning more than 200 U.S. patents, Bookbinder has created and produced a chemistry magic show, inspiring children and their parents through the wonders of science for more than 30 years. In a conversation with NIHF, he described bringing chemistry concepts to life in engaging and memorable ways, and he discussed the reactions he’s seen from the audiences at these shows through the years. “Even some of the parents come up to me and say ‘Oh, my goodness — if I had you as a chemistry teacher, I probably would’ve taken chemistry. I never had anyone explain stuff to me. I just had to memorize it.’ It’s a lot of fun.” 

Dana Bookbinder will be formally Inducted along with our entire class of 2020 NIHF Inductees at the NIHF Induction Ceremony. To find more blogs introducing our inspiring 2020 Inductees, visit invent.org.

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