NPR's Richard Harris did a fine job of explaining the ubiquitous, essential nature of glass fiber optics and semiconductors, the research developments of three scientists who will share the Nobel Prize for Physics this year. The Nobel Committee said that the work of Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith made possible the "foundation of our networked society." The invention of the Charge-Couple Device or CCD (Boyle and Smith, working at Bell Labs in New Jersey) is a great example of scientists pursuing basic research, seeking a solution to a known problem, and discovering something very exciting with unforeseen benefits for the future. The CCD allows images to be captured digitally rather than on film. Kao's glass fibers, carrying information as light rather electricity, have literally transformed the world of information - certainly the work of librarians - and made possible development of the Internet.
Read some history in this 2001 book, available electronically
Building the global fiberoptics superhighway / C. David Chaffee
The 1970 paper by Boyle and Smith, "Charge coupled semiconductor devices," published in the Bell System Technical Journal, 49(4): 587-93, has been cited nearly 480 times as of this morning, according to a cited reference search in ISI Web of Science.