The University of Southampton

Advanced Fibre Technologies and Applications PhD Projects

There has been a massive investment in optical fibre telecommunications technology over the last 40 years. Optical fibres lie at the very heart of modern society, providing the information superhighways required within our global communication systems. 

Within the AFTA group we are developing the fibres, fibre devices, and system concepts required for next generation telecommunication systems and investigating new applications of the technology in areas beyond telecommunications including amongst others: high power pulsed fibre lasers, industrial materials processing, aerospace, biology, sensing and fundamental physics.

Energy Efficient Optical Fibre Amplifier Development for Green Optical Communications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson

Co-supervisor: Dr Yongmin Jung

Optical fibre networks provide the backbone for the internet, with 99% of the world’s data traffic sent over optical fibres across the globe at the speed of light and are a key enabler of digital transformation of our society and economy. However, the Internet currently accounts for ~10% of the world’s total electricity usage and this has a strong impact on the climate and environment, accounting for 3.7% of global CO2 emission. This figure is set to continue to increase for the time being and it is very important to develop new optical fibre technology for green optical communications.

Optical fibre amplifiers, which are used to boost the signals every 80-100km in long-haul transmission systems, represent a significant source of power consumption in telecommunication networks. Moreover, in subsea systems, power consumption limits the total cable capacity and optimising the energy efficiency of the amplifiers is key.  This project will explore new optical fibre amplifier technology to enable energy efficient optical amplification while reducing the cost per bit and increasing the total capacity. The approach will be based on “Space Division Multiplexing” technology and a new array of optical components and fibre amplifiers having multiple spatial channels (either multiple fibre cores or multiple modes within a single fibre core) will be developed to facilitate energy efficient optical amplification. Note that we have previously been involved in several major EU and UK projects on this topic and established the main key technologies for SDM, presenting several world first experimental demonstrations: i) the world’s first multimode erbium-doped fibre amplifier, ii) setting the GUINNESS world record on SDM transmission, iii) winning the EU HORIZON PRIZE for breaking the optical transmission barrier and iv) commercialization of SDM amplifier technology.

This PhD project is primarily experimental in nature and the successful student will work within an experienced team of world-leading researchers, within extensive and well-equipped labs and have the opportunity to engage with our industrial partners to achieve high impact outcomes from their work.

Multi-Analyte Fibre Optic Sensing for Biomedical applications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson

Co-supervisor: Dr Yongmin Jung

A single sensor readout is typically insufficient to fully understand complex biomedical phenomena, cell-based and clinical diagnostics and multi-analyte sensing is essential to gather the holistic information needed. Moreover, it is exceptionally challenging to quantitatively measure multiple physico-chemical and biologically relevant parameters at the single cell level. In this project, we will explore new optical fibre technology designed to simultaneously offer a multiplicity of optical sensing channels for in-situ bioanalysis (namely, multi-analyte sensing). Various types of new speciality optical fibres (e.g. multicore, multimode or hollow core fibres), functional optrodes and fibre optic components will be explored to provide new degrees of freedom in bio-sensing fibre probe design.  Multicore fibre (having multiple cores in a single fibre cladding), in particular, represents a highly integrated and flexible form of multiparameter biosensing platform and will be investigated in-depth as a means to efficiently couple a variety of light sources or detectors to bio-sample in a very compact format. The overall aim of the project is to test the basic concept of simultaneous multi-analyte in-situ biosensing and the successful student will have the opportunity to engage with our University’s Life Science, Chemistry, Medicine and Biology department teams to achieve high impact outcomes from their work.

The generation of femtosecond structured light beams for super-resolution volumetric biomedical imaging applications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson

Co-supervisor: Dr Di Lin

Applications of femtosecond and picosecond pulse lasers lie at the forefront of laser research. Nowadays, the use of ultrafast lasers is becoming increasingly widespread in bio-sciences and industry alike. The existing market for ultrafast lasers remains dominated by solid-state lasers, primarily Ti:sapphire crystal based systems. However, recent advances show routes to ultrafast fibre sources that provide performance and capabilities equal to, and in some cases beyond, those of Ti:sapphire in compact, versatile, low-cost implementations.

Fibre lasers are particularly suitable for high average power operation thanks to their excellent heat dissipation characteristics. However, confining short pulses within a fibre core leads to high intensities that can cause severe nonlinear effects that compromise pulse quality. For a long time, the primary challenge to achieving high peak power was indeed management of nonlinearity in the fibre core. Over the past decade, this challenge has been met with several technological breakthroughs. In particular, new forms of pulse evolution that can take place in normal dispersion fiber, now provide a means of better tolerating high nonlinearity.

This PhD project will develop a revolutionary new generation of femtosecond fibre laser capable of delivering high energy and high peak power femtosecond pulses. A primary focus will be to generate these pulses in beams with complex spatial structure. Such exotic beams are required for new biomedical imaging modalities that can exploit the temporal and spatial properties of these beams, e.g. to achieve higher imaging resolution and/or chemical specificity as needed for disease diagnosis, and for the development of new pharmaceuticals. The project will exploit newly developed fibres made both at the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and their external collaborators, including collaborators in the Institute for Life Sciences at Southampton, to significantly advance the current state-of-the-art.

We are looking for applicants with a background in physics, material sciences or engineering to develop the technology needed to support future bio-sciences. There is ample scope for an ambitious student to emerge as world-leading scientist with an exceptional grounding as a potential research leader.

To discuss any details of the project or arrange a visit, please contact Professor David Richardson (djr@orc.soton.ac.uk) and Dr Di Lin (di.lin@soton.ac.uk).

Fibre laser based mid infrared sources and their applications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson 

Co-supervisor: Dr Lin Xu and Dr Sijing Liang

The mid-infrared (mid-IR) spectral region of 2-20μm contains strong characteristic vibrational transitions of many important molecules and incorporates the atmospheric transmission window, which makes it crucial for applications in spectroscopy, materials processing, chemical and biomolecular sensing, security and environmental monitoring. However, this wavelength range is difficult to access directly using traditional laser materials and cavity implementations.

This project will involve the development of high power short pulse fibre lasers operating at conventional near-IR wavelengths (e.g. 1 and 2µm) and converting the wavelength of the output light to the mid-IR wavelengths using nonlinear optical effects in specially engineered crystals, and/or optical fibres. As an integral part of the £6m Airguide Photonics EPSRC programme grant (https://www.airguide.soton.ac.uk/) and a collaborative £5M EPSRC Healthcare Technologies grant (http://www.inlightenus.chem.ed.ac.uk/), we will target both high-power laser operation providing a wide wavelength tuning range and a narrow spectral linewidth (that can be used to probe individual cells with high-resolution and with molecular specificity) and broadband supercontinuum sources with ultrahigh spectral power densities (that can be used to rapidly record the full absorption spectrum of biological samples without the need for laser tuning).

The project will create a world leading femto/pico-second pulsed fibre laser source as well as advanced nonlinear frequency conversion techniques, overcoming the technical challenges that currently limiting progress in the field. In broad terms, the work undertaken by the project student will combine experiments and simulations and will be directed to advancing both our understanding of lasers and nonlinear optics, as well as applications of mid-IR laser in medical imaging. The finer details of the project can be aligned to suit the preferences of the successful candidate. You will emerge as a high-achieving young scientist ready to embark on a strong career in this rapidly growing field.

For candidates with industrial career aspirations, there are real opportunities to work closely with Trumpf, a major manufacturer of fibre lasers based in Southampton and project partner on the grants, enabling experience to be gained of working with industry.

To discuss any details of the project or to arrange a visit, please contact Dr. Lin Xu (l.xu@soton.ac.uk), Professor David Richardson FRS, FREng (djr@orc.soton.ac.uk), or Dr. Sijing Liang (S.Liang@soton.ac.uk).

Development of high energy femtosecond fibre laser sources based on multicore fibre and coherent beam combination

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson

Co-supervisor: Dr Di Lin

Fibre lasers have emerged as the technology of choice for a wide range of industrial, medical and fundamental science applications.

The aim of this PhD project is to develop a revolutionary new generation of high pulse energy, high average power short pulse fibre lasers capable of directly generating femtosecond pulses that are shaped in both time and space to suit the most demanding laser applications. In particular this project will develop an environmentally stable mode-locked fibre oscillator based on cascaded Mamyshev regeneration in a multicore fibre (MCF) that is able to simultaneously generate N spatially parallel ultrafast pulses that can ultimately be coherently combined to form a single giant pulse whose spatial output beam profile can be optimised for a variety of specific applications e.g. cutting of metal sheets through to performing delicate eye surgery.

Coherent beam combination in MCFs offers many advantages over competing beam combination approaches based on the use of separate individual amplifiers. It provides an integrated multi-channel architecture that drastically reduces system complexity by decoupling component count from channel count and ensures improved environmental stability. It also provides for a very high degree of freedom in terms of tailoring the amplitude, phase, and polarization state of the output pulses.

The PhD will involve close collaboration with our academic and industrial partners to demonstrate the benefits of this new laser technology for applications in laser material processing and medical imaging.

Glass Surface Interactions in Hollow Core Fibres 

Supervisor: Dr Natalie Wheeler

Co-supervisor: Dr Yong Chen

We are looking for a new PhD student with a background in chemistry, materials science and/ or physics to join us to study the surface chemistry of thin glass membranes in hollow core fibres (HCFs).  

HCFs are an exciting development in optical fibre technology where light is guided in an air filled core. At the University of Southampton, we have a world-leading group, which designs, characterises and fabricates state-of-the-art HCFs and we recently reported a new world record low loss for this type of optical fibre. HCFs are now serious contenders for a variety of applications, including telecommunications. 

Now the optical lifetime of these fibres is becoming critical for their successful deployment. The hollow core region is surrounded by a cladding structure formed from thin glass membranes. These membranes can have extreme dimensions, for example, having a width of only 30 nanometres but extending along the full fibre length (up to several kilometres) and therefore they present a novel and interesting platform for glass surface dynamics. We want to study the interactions between these surfaces and air (or other gas species) within the fibre. 

In this project, the student will fabricate new HCFs, with a focus on understanding and quantifying the impact of different fabrication processes on the properties of the glass surfaces within the fibre and linking this to lifetime of the final fibre in various applications. Within this scope, the student will become an expert in both fabrication and characterisation of HCFs, while developing a high level of understanding of glass science. The successful student will work with experienced researchers, have access to a wide range of equipment and work with external partners to maximise the impact of their work.

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