Published on April 22, 2022

LightstickWhat Dr. Bell Understood

When asked which of the inventions and innovations credited to his work was most important, Alexander Graham Bell would answer, “the Photophone.” The Photophone? This little-known device was something that Bell and his laboratory colleagues demonstrated in 1880 that enabled sound – and thus, information – to be transmitted on a beam of light. The technical limitations of the materials available to Bell and his collaborators prevented their invention from achieving any practical results, so the technology languished. But as it turns out, they were definitely onto something.

They were not the first scientists or inventors who were interested in better understanding the properties of light for communication. In the first half of the 19th century, scientists demonstrated the ability to guide light using a stream of falling water. Other researchers studied how thin glass tubes could reliably carry light along. The inquiry grew, the work spread, and scientists persisted across the decades. By the mid-20th century, the race was on to make commercial use of the ideas that Bell and his colleagues had articulated.

It was on April 22, 1977 – just 45 years ago today – that General Telephone and Electronics in Long Beach, California, first sent live telephone traffic through what has come to be called “fiber optics.” In May 1977, the Bell System, which grew out of Alexander Graham Bell’s labs, started sending live telephone traffic through a fiber link in downtown Chicago. Bell’s prediction of his most important invention was about to be proven true. By 2000, 80% of the information being shuttled from place to place in the world was carried by fiber optic cables.

If you used an internet link to access this column, fiber optic cables were most likely used to pass it along to you at some point on its journey from my computer to yours. In healthcare, fiber optic communication has dramatically impacted patient access to care, collaboration between care teams and specialists, monitoring of patient health and security of data – as well as a host of clinical benefits.

Stories like this are important to remember as we seek to be more effective each day in fulfilling our Mission to extend God’s care. In our work we are constantly using what we have learned, along with the best science and tools available, to improve the care we deliver to our patients and the communities we serve.

We don’t just hope that we can do a better job. We grow through persistently focusing on effectiveness, efficiency and reliability – characteristics that are expressed in our Values and work across Adventist HealthCare. And we appreciate your flexibility and support as we adapt to new processes, technology and advances so we can truly be the best place to receive care and obtain the best health outcomes.

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