The University of Southampton

Advanced Fibre Technologies & 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.

Next-generation femtosecond fibre-laser CPA sources and their applications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson
Co-supervisor: Dr Di Lin

This PhD project will address the pressing challenge of significantly increasing pulse energy from a single fibre laser by incorporating newly created fibres from both the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) fabricators and collaborators to significantly advance the state-of-the-art.

Applications of femtosecond and picosecond pulse lasers are driving the forefront of laser research. This close link was recognised by the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of chirped-pulse-amplified (CPA) lasers. Achieving a significant increase in the pulse energy from a single fibre laser is now reaching fundamental limitations set by nonlinear interactions in the fibres.

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

This project will make use of our new computer-controlled ‘tailored’ pulse-shaper, which by acting in the spectral (Fourier) domain, can dynamically apply the required phase/amplitude. This advanced laser capability will be applied by our collaborators in nonlinear imaging (bio-sciences), material surface processing (industry) and to better understand the physical processes in the fibres.

Advanced ultra-short pulse two-micron fibre lasers for deep tissue medical imaging

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson
Co-supervisor: Dr Lin Xu

This PhD project concerns the development of a new generation of fibre lasers tailored to enable high-resolution, chemically-sensitive, 3D laser imaging deep within the human body. The project is an integral part of a large collaborative EPSRC grant looking to fulfil our future healthcare needs.

The project team comprises those working on laser development, advanced computation imaging approaches (including AI), new signal detectors as well as medical doctors from the Universities of Edinburgh, Nottingham and Southampton. Aiming to improve early detection of disease by using light (unlike X-rays a safe non-ionising form of radiation) the technology should ultimately provide a fast widely used diagnostic tool offering both improved care and future cost savings for example the NHS ( )

This fully funded PhD project focusses on creating novel, high-performance fibre lasers operating in the two-micron wavelength region. These lasers have the potential to open-up a wealth of new applications not only in medical imaging, but also for industrial processing and optical communications.

In particular, the project will create a world leading femto/pico-second pulsed fibre laser source, overcoming the technical challenges currently limiting progress in the field. Nonlinear frequency conversion of the output will transfer the output from the laser to both longer and shorter wavelengths as needed for the novel imaging. In broad terms, the work undertaken by the project student will combine experiments and simulations, together with advancing our understanding of lasers and nonlinear optics: Precise details can be aligned to your preferences. 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 SPI Lasers Ltd, a major manufacturer of fibre lasers based in Southampton and project partner on the grant, enabling experience to be gained of working with industry.

Please contact Professor David Richardson or Dr Lin Xu for additional details.

Wide-band optical fibre amplifiers for the next generation of internet

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson 
Co-supervisor: Dr Lin Xu

The amount of data transferred daily over the internet is increasing at a rate of 40% per annum year-on-year and there is consequently a continuous demand to increase the transmission capacity of optical communication networks. To date this has traditionally been done by improving the transmitter and receiver technology at the end of the fibre transmission line. However, this approach is beginning to run out of steam as this signalling technology is now close to fully optimised and the fundamental transmission capacity of the fibre transmission line, and in particular the bandwidth of the erbium doped fibre amplifiers (EDFAs) used to periodically boost signals degraded by signal propagation losses, is now a major limiting factor. The EDFA is a University of Southampton invention from the mid-80’s and has been a huge engineering and commercial success but new optical amplifiers with a wider bandwidth are now desperately required.

This PhD project will be performed in collaboration with a world-leading industrial telecommunications equipment manufacturer and is focussed on exploiting novel fibre materials, structures and technologies to develop wide-band fibre amplifiers. Ensuring the key amplifier characteristics of high gain, flat spectral gain profile and low noise figure is paramount and will represent a major aspect of the project. We are looking for applicants with an interest in joining us to develop the technology needed to support the internet of the future. This PhD project will be an integral part of an ambitious, very well-funded Programme with the potential for major global impact.

Fibre laser based mid infrared sources and their applications

Supervisor: Professor David Richardson 
Co-supervisor: Dr Lin Xu

Most gas molecules exhibit vibrations that lead to highly structured but characteristic light absorption spectra in the mid-infrared (mid-IR) regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Consequently, by measuring the absorption of light for gas samples as a function of the wavelength the presence and concentration of different gas species within a sample can be determined. This is enabling for a wide range of sensing applications in biology, medicine, environmental monitoring and manufacturing amongst others.

In order to exploit this sensing approach there is an emerging requirement for laser sources operating in the mid-IR. These are difficult to realise using traditional laser materials and designs. In this project we will develop a range of mid-IR sources offering unprecedented levels of wavelength coverage and power within the mid-IR (wavelengths range from 2-15 μm where the “fingerprints” of most gases can be detected).

The project will involve developing 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. We will target both high-power sources with a wide wavelength tuning range and a narrow spectral linewidth that can be used to probe individual gas absorption lines and broadband supercontinuum sources with ultrahigh spectral power densities that can be used to record the full gas absorption spectrum in one go without the need for laser tuning.

The ultimate goals of this project are to develop a ground-breaking new technology platform for the mid-IR and to work with others to demonstrate the enabling capabilities provided by the platform in several of the important application areas above, with a particular focus on the life sciences.

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.

New Optical Fibres, Components and Optical Amplifiers for the Next Generation of Higher Speed Internet

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 at some point over optical fibres. There are more than 2 billion kilometres of fibre installed across the globe to date, with an extra 400 million kilometres added every year! However, the ultimate data carrying capacity of the fibres used in today’s networks, developed in the mid-70s, is now within sight in the laboratory and there are concerns that this will ultimately compromise the capacity, cost and ways that commercial networks are built at some point in the next 5-10 years. In this project, we will explore a new fibre technology concept capable of supporting much greater data carrying capacity than the current approach by increasing the number of spatial channels sent through the fibre cross-section. This new approach, referred to as “Space Division Multiplexing (SDM)”, uses either multiple fibre cores, or multiple modes of a single fibre core to define the multiple spatial channels (current fibres use 1 core and 1 mode). The project will develop a new array of optical components and optical amplifiers to facilitate compact and practical SDM systems and will target up to 100 spatial channels per fibre operation. Note that we have been involved in the pioneering EU and EPSRC projects on this topic which have established the main key technologies for SDM and we have presented several world first experimental demonstrations and achievements, including: 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, in extensive and well equipped labs and have the opportunity to engage with our industrial partners to achieve high impact outcomes from their work. The project is supported by generous funding from the EPSRC.


Fabrication and Applications of Hollow Core Fibres

Supervisor: Dr Natalie Wheeler

Co-supervisors:  Dr Peter Horak and Dr Ian Davidson


We are looking for a new PhD student to join our group to work on the fabrication and possible applications of hollow core fibres. These fibres are an exciting recent development in optical fibre technology and have the potential to transform diverse application areas, from next generation communications to ultrahigh sensitivity gas detection for early disease diagnosis.  

At the University of Southampton, we have a highly collaborative team working on hollow core fibres, from fibre design, fabrication, characterisation through to ultimate applications. This project will involve working across all these aspects of hollow core fibres and will involve developing new ways of controlling the optical properties of hollow core fibres post-fabrication. There is substantial scope within this research area for innovation and this work will suit a creative and self-motivated candidate. This project is primarily experimental and the successful student will work with experienced researchers, within extensive and well-equipped cleanrooms and labs and will engage with our industrial partners to achieve high impact outcomes from their work. The project is supported by generous funding from the EPSRC and the Royal Society.

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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