2020 NIHF Inductee Pushkar Tandon: The Groundbreaking Chemical Engineer

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Leaders in Innovation

2020 NIHF Inductee Pushkar Tandon: The Groundbreaking Chemical Engineer

As co-inventor of the bend-insensitive ClearCurve® optical fiber, Pushkar Tandon has helped advance data transmission across many industries. This revolutionary fiber can bend without causing significant signal loss, allowing it to reach more locations and provide greater bandwidth with fiber-to-the-home applications. In recognition of this invention, Tandon and his colleagues, Dana Bookbinder and Ming-Jun Li, will join the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) as members of our 2020 Inductee class.


Pursuing Science

Tandon was born in New Delhi, India, in 1967. He recalls that while India’s closed economy at the time pressured those who wanted to excel financially to become an engineer or doctor, his parents were always a source of reassuring guidance.

Referring to his father in particular, Tandon said, “He didn’t insist that I should do this or that. He advised.” Tandon is grateful for this support. “More than anything else, I think the most comfortable fact was I knew he had my back. When you have that, you are willing to take risks. He would say ‘Whatever you do, we are behind you. We will back you 100%.’ If I took a risk and it didn’t pay off, I knew I had a safety net. I had somebody to fall back on.”

Tandon was one of about 2,000 students chosen to attend the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi from an applicant pool of 500,000 high school students. Here, he received his bachelor of technology degree in chemical engineering, followed by his doctorate, also in chemical engineering, from Yale University.


Advancing Data Transmission

After completing postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania Institute of Medicine, in 1998, Tandon joined Corning Incorporated, where he began working with optical fiber.

Before the emergence of optical fiber, copper wire had been the standard means of transmitting phone calls and data over long distances. Unlike copper, which uses electric current, optical fiber works by sending pulses of light. Because light travels in a straight line unless there is a way to steer it around a bend, 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 to conventional copper wires. Conventional fiber containing tight bends suffered from substantial signal loss.

Corning had long been investigating residential uses of optical fiber, and the company knew that running fiber directly into homes and offices — called fiber-to-the-home — would significantly increase the speed and volume of data delivery. As Tandon, Li and Bookbinder’s work evolved, Corning executives fast-tracked the project’s development.

In 2004, a series of experiments led the team to discover that certain types of optical fiber could transmit light around tight bends. Introduced by Corning in 2007, ClearCurve optical fiber can be bent to small diameters and around tight corners, so it can be used in locations where optical fiber installation had not previously been possible. This technology enables online gaming, telemedicine, telecommuting and smart city technologies, and it meets the growing need for internet services including cloud computing and data storage.

For Tandon, this invention’s role in advancing connections and communication are meaningful not only on a global scale, but on a personal level as well. He maintains a close relationship with his father in India, communicating with him frequently. “Almost every day we exchange a message,” Tandon said. “To think that my work has something to do with connecting people together is very meaningful.”

Pushkar Tandon currently holds more than 140 U.S. patents. He 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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