ESSEX — Dr. Peter Schultz’s high-school guidance counselor told him he wasn’t “college material.”
But that didn’t stop him.
The Essex man, who became the first member of his family to go on to higher education, went on to invent low-loss optical fiber in the 1970s, with the help of colleagues Dr. Donald Keck and Dr. Robert Maurer while working at Corning.
“To this day, virtually every fiber used for communication around the world is based on that formula,” Schultz said.
But making a wire that advanced was no easy task.
“Nobody thought it could be done,” he said at his Essex home.
TINY GLASS WIRE
The challenge was to create a tiny glass wire free of impurities that would lose as few decibels per kilometer as possible of information as it traveled though it.
In 1972, two years after creating the original wire, the three scientists developed a version that would only lose four decibels per kilometer.
“It was a big improvement,” Schultz said.
Today, low-loss optical fiber, which is thinner than a single human hair, is used to transmit light signals that carry information sent out by computers, tablets, cellphones and other modern electronics.
HALL OF FAME
For his efforts, Schultz has received three prestigious awards.
In May, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the largest technical society in the world, honored him with its Milestone Award.
That recognition is given for outstanding achievement in the field of technology that happened at least 25 years ago.
The bronze plaque is mounted on a large piece of granite outside Corning Research Center in Corning — the lab where Schultz, Maurer and Keck did their work is located there.
With Maurer and Keck, Schultz was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1993. Schultz received the National Medal of Technology in 2000.
He has a picture in his home that captured him shaking the hand of former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office after receiving the award.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to do the things I have done,” Schultz said. “I absolutely never would have predicted this when I was a young guy.”
Although he retired from his position as president of Heraeus Tenevo Inc., a technical glass manufacturing company, he wants to continue doing what he loves.
Since 2001, he has been taking on private consulting work for his own business, Peter Schultz Consulting.
He is also working on improving the transmission speed of Internet signals in the Virgin Islands, where he lives in the winter.
With Virgin Islands Gov. John P. de Jongh, Schultz was successful in securing a grant from the federal government to install a $100 million fiber network there.
“I only wish we could be doing that up here,” he said, acknowledging the lack of high-speed Internet service in the North Country.
Schultz is also involved in another project that could change the way diabetics check their blood sugar.
He is working with scientists in Israel and Russia to develop a biosensor that would measure a person’s blood sugar using fiber optics instead of a meter that draws blood.
“Recently, we’ve made some pretty good progress,” Schultz said.
When he’s not in St. Thomas, Schultz spends his time in Essex.
He developed a love for the Adirondacks at a young age and moved with his wife, Mary Anne, from Atlanta to Essex in 2001.
Schultz knew the area from trips he made to the Adirondacks with the Boy Scouts.
“I always thought it was a pretty area,” he said. “It’s the back door of the Adirondacks.”
Usually, Schultz likes to spend a good portion of the summer on Lake Champlain on his sailboat.
But with all the work he’s been doing, he hasn’t been able to put it in the water yet.
“I just haven’t had the time,” he said.