高锟教授1933年于上海出生，曾负笈英国伦敦大学攻读电机工程学，先后获理学士学位和哲学博士学位。他曾于英国和美国著名的电讯工程机构工作。1966年，他首度提出光导纤维在通讯上应用的基本原理，并开发了实现光通讯所需的辅助系统，促成互联网的出现。高教授于1970年出任中大新成立的电子学系 (现称电子工程学系) 教授兼系主任，并为中大首位电子学讲座教授；1985年获颁授荣誉理学博士衔，1987年至1996年出任中大校长。高教授荣休后，一直担任中大工程学荣誉讲座教授。
高教授出任中大校长九年间，独具远见，积极筹建工程学院，凝聚五个学系的力量，集中在资讯科技和电子工程的教育和研究，为学院多年来的发展奠定坚实基础。此外，高教授成立了教育学院及多间研究所，开设多个新的本科及研究院课程，成功带领中大扩充成为一所世界级研究型综合大学。本科生人数由1987年的7,000多名增至1996年近13,000人。他亦于任内成立第四所成员书院 - 逸夫书院。
历年来高教授获得之奖誉多如恒河沙数，包括美国富兰克林研究所史特活．柏兰亭奖章、瑞典艾力松基金会 L · M ·艾力松国际奖、美京美亚协会成就奖、美国电机及电子工程师学会亚历山大‧格林姆‧贝尔奖章、英国电机工程师学会法拉第奖章、日本创价大学荣誉博士、世界工程组织协会杰出工程成就金章、日本国际赏、英国皇家工程学院菲利普亲王奖章、意大利帕多瓦大学电信工程学荣誉博士、美国国家工程学会查尔斯．史塔克．德瑞普奖、英国电机工程师学会国际演讲奖章、香港星岛集团2002年杰出领袖奖 – 创意/科技组别、千禧杰出工程师奖、大英帝国司令勋章、帕多瓦市章、意大利铸币局章及香港工程师学会荣誉大奖等。中国科学院紫金山天文台亦以「高锟星」命名小行星。
Professor Rocky S. Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President of CUHK, said, “Professor Kao was a brilliant scholar and visionary leader in higher education. As the third Vice-Chancellor, he spearheaded the advancement of CUHK in its formative years, laying down a fertile ground for the growth of talents, and made remarkable achievements during his tenure. His impeccable strive for excellence in science and technology led to his groundbreaking accomplishments in the area of fibre optics, which brought forth the development of the internet and opened a new page in the history of telecommunications. Professor Kao’s passing is a great loss to CUHK, Hong Kong, and the global academia. All of us at CUHK will remember his immense contributions to the University and to the world. I sincerely offer our deepest condolences to Professor Kao’s family on behalf of the teachers, students and alumni of CUHK.”
Born in Shanghai in 1933, Professor Kao studied at the University of London where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree and his PhD in electrical engineering. He has served in various leading telecommunications companies in the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1966, he developed the principles of fibre optics, and turned optic fibre communication into reality, eventually ushering in the age of the internet. Professor Kao joined CUHK in 1970 as Reader and Chair of the then new Department of Electronics (later renamed to Department of Electronic Engineering), and appointed as the first Professor of Electronics. He was conferred the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, by CUHK in 1985. He was Vice-Chancellor of CUHK from 1987-1996. Upon his retirement, Professor Kao was appointed Honorary Professor of Engineering.
During his nine-year term as CUHK’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kao’s visionary insight resulted in the establishment of the Faculty of Engineering, consisting of the five existing, individual engineering departments, by combining their strengths and focus on education and research in computer science, information technology and electronic engineering. The solid foundation laid down for the Faculty has served CUHK well in subsequent years. In addition, Professor Kao also established the Faculty of Education and a number of research institutes, laying a firm academic infrastructure for CUHK to develop into a world-class, comprehensive, research-driven institution of higher education. From an enrollment of just over 7,000 in 1987, CUHK’s student number rose to around 13,000 in 1996. He brought to completion the establishment of the University’s fourth Constituent College, Shaw College.
As the pioneer of the application of fibre optics in the area of communications technologies, Professor Kao’s research on fibre optics transformed telecommunication, brining improvements in communication flow that addressed the needs of the global community. Thus, the internet has become an indispensable technology in the everyday life of global citizens, particularly in global communication. Professor Kao is recognised worldwide as the ‘Father of Fibre Optics’and was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for his accomplishment in the development of fibre optic technologies that changed the world. He was also awarded The Prince Philip Medal by the Royal Society of Engineering in 1996 in recognition of his scientific achievements and knighted in 2010. He was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1997 and presented the Great Bauhinia Medal by the HKSAR Government in 2010.
Professor Kao was honoured through various prizes, including the Stuart Ballantine Medal, Franklin Institute, USA, the L.M. Ericsson International Prize, Sweden, the US-Asia Institute Achievement Award, the Alexander Graham Bell Medal, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Faraday Medal, Institute of Electrical Engineers, UK, the Degree of Honorary Doctorate, Soka University of Japan, the Medal of Engineering Excellence, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, the Japan Prize in the Field of Information, Computer and Communication Systems, The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan, the Prince Philip Medal, Fellowship of Engineering, The Royal Academy of Engineering, UK, Doctor of Telecommunications, Engineering, honoris causa, The University of Padova, Italy, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, National Academy of Engineering, USA, the International Lecture Medal, The Institution of Electrical Engineers, UK, Leader of the Year 2002 – Innovation Technology Category, Sing Tao, HK, the Millennium Outstanding Engineer Award, HK, CBE, the la Citta di Padova, a coin from Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca Dello Stato (mint of the Italian Republic), Italy, and the Gold Medal Award of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. A minor planet was named after him as ‘Kaokuen’ by the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Professor Kao was closely associated with CUHK for nearly half a century. Since the founding of the Department of Electronics in 1970 by Professor Kao, CUHK has established itself as one of the world’s leading universities in optical communication research. During his term as Vice-Chancellor, research thrived at CUHK and research institutes proliferated in all disciplines. He also made significant and progressive changes in the University. His scientific and technological contributions continue to be praised by the world for the lasting changes they have brought to communication for human kind, for bringing human beings closer together and for significant changes in society. Professor Kao will remain forever part of that legacy.