A 42-year veteran of the company, Dr. Daniel (Dan) Nolan is a Corporate Fellow in Corning’s Research Group. Listed below is some information on his life before Corning and some of his career highlights to date.
Life before Corning
Dan grew up in Bethlehem, Penn. where he remembers gaining an early interest in science as a result of the large research campus near his home called Bethlehem Steel Homer Research Center. He remembers it being similar to Sullivan Park in terms of size and relevance to the larger company it was associated with. This early interest in science also led him to pursue his studies in physics at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). During his time at Penn State, he was he was drafted in the U.S. Army and served from 1969 until 1971. While in the Army, he continued his interest in theoretical physics.
“As a part of my assignment, I analyzed optical materials including glass reflective beads and organic fluorescent dyes,” he said. Following his time in the military, he returned to Penn State to complete his doctorate work in physics and graduated with his Ph.D. in 1974.
An Early Interest in Fiber
Fresh off of his Ph.D. program, Dan interviewed at Corning in 1974 and remembers visiting Dr. Donald Keck, one of the inventor’s of optical fiber, in Don’s lab during the interview. “The concept of fiber was still very new at the time but I was very intrigued with it and I remember that it was one of the reasons that I chose to come to Corning,” he said.
Dan accepted a job in the modeling group at Sullivan Park shortly after his interview that same year. He went on to work with Don Keck over the course of the next 20 years in a variety of roles including all aspects of optical fibers including single mode, multimode, polarization nonlinearities, as well as components for undersea communications, and fiber to the home.
Over the course of his career at Corning, Dan has worked on a variety of technologies including optical materials, optical fiber, photonics, photovoltaics, transparent displays, lighting, and quantum communication research. Of the many technologies he’s worked on, he cited the groundbreaking work with the first undersea components for transoceanic fibers and long distance telecommunication fiber as some of the products lines he’s liked working on the most.
“Throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed studying and understanding the physics of optical materials and then translating that work into concepts and trying to verify them,” he said.
And regardless of the project or product -- through his four decades of experience with the company, he’s always felt that the work he’s done is important.
“Corning does a good job of keeping R&D work relevant, and all of the work I’ve contributed to the company during my career has been valuable.” - Dr. Dan Nolan
Dan’s also enjoyed seeing how technologies that he worked on decades ago find new applications in today’s technical environment. He cites the example of photochromic glass technology that Corning used in the 1980’s for eyewear that is the inspiration for potential new window glass applications as an example. “It goes to show that all of the research work we’re doing here is important – even if the expected result didn’t turn out the way a team anticipated – the technology and knowledge could always be used later.”
Work on Next Gen Fibers
Dan is continuing to explore new possibilities for fiber technologies through quantum communications. Using Corning fiber and new quantum memory materials -- the technology helps enable the transfer of sensitive data without it being intercepted. Dan has been involved in this project for more than six years and said advancements in this technology area can help governments, corporations, and individuals in situations where the transfer of confidential information is key.
“Quantum communications enables the transfer of information, without any possibility of it being hacked from those wishing to access your personal, medical and financial records,” he said. “We are inventing new optical fibers, new quantum materials and structured glass surfaces with important functionalities that will enable the advancement of this technology and hopefully will make it a reality.”
Advice for Young Scientists
In addition to the research projects he’s working on, he’s also a mentor to many younger scientists at Sullivan Park. He tells them that success in R&D comes from passion around what you’re doing, being open to new possibilities, and having a focused skill set. “To compare it to sports, you don’t have to be great at every position, but you do have to know your position and that of the rest of your teams’ positions on the field, and what they do to be able to work as a unit and achieve success.”