At A Glance

Optical fibers are used in a growing range of applications central to modern life ranging from communications, e-commerce, manufacturing, defense and medicine. John Ballato has spent his career researching the fundamentals of fiber optic development by looking at materials and how they influence light. His work has led Clemson to become the only university in the United States with the industry scale capability to make and test optical fiber.


Ballato’s work focuses on fiber optics and understanding how light interacts with materials. He joined the University in 1997 as a professor in the ceramic engineering department, and is credited with developing Clemson’s world-class fiber optics research and development program.

Ballato’s research focuses on understanding the interaction of light with materials at the most fundamental levels and new optical materials and structures for high-value photonic and optoelectronic applications. His research first addresses the materials and how the materials influence light. He then uses this knowledge to develop optical fibers that carry and control light for a variety of demands — communications, defense, medical, etc. Ballato’s work in this field has helped set Clemson apart as a leader in fiber optics research for both the public and private sectors — developing specialty optical fibers for high-energy laser, biomedical and industrial uses.

In 2000, Ballato and four colleagues founded the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET), a large-scale, interdisciplinary collaborative research center. Ballato previously served as director of COMSET and continues to work with the center as faculty and as a mentor. Ballato’s work with the center has helped to elevate Clemson as the only university in the United States that has the industry scale capability to make optical fiber.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society (OSA), the International Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE) and the American Ceramic Society (ACerS), Ballato has over 425 publications and 35 U.S. and foreign patents. He is an elected member of the World Academy of Ceramics (limited to < 300 members world-wide) and the U.S. National Academy of Inventors (NAI). His collaborative work on Anderson localizing optical fiber was selected as one of the Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2014 by Physics World (Institute of Physics, IoP).

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Our approach is to look at optical fibers through the lens of the material that the fiber is made out of — how does that [the material] influence the light. The behavior and performance has to do with the light and the material, and the material just happens to be in the shape of a fiber, but it’s that interaction that governs everything else. This approach is what differentiates us [at Clemson] globally, by understanding and attacking problems from the perspective of the light in the materials and doing that in the form of a fiber.

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    • Interaction of light with materials
    • Optical fiber research, development and application

    Degrees, Institutions

    • Ph.D. ceramic and materials engineering, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
    • B.S. ceramic science and engineering, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey