The University of Southampton

Introducing a flexible format for planar optics

Published: 8 February 2007

A pioneering optical fibre has recently been developed and patented by researchers from the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton. The 'Flat fibre' is the latest ground-breaking technology which adds to a unique set of photonic devices and optical fibres which form the backbone of today's information technology revolution through high-speed optical telecommunications.

Conventional glass planar substrates have extremely rigid structures, which makes them very difficult to use in sensing or long haul communications, whereas the flexibility of optical fibres is ideal for these purposes. The 'Flat fibre' combines the advantages of both planar devices and optical fibres, making it a more versatile technology which can be used across a much wider variety of applications such as sensing, micro-fluidics and telecommunications.

‘Combining the technology of planar circuits and optical fibres promises truly flexible, integrated optical devices,’ comments research member Dr Corin Gawith of the University's Optoelectronics Research Centre. ‘Using this technology it is possible to simplify the optical fibre network by combining a whole host of functions in one fibre which can be distributed over a long distances.’

The 'Flat fibre' is a planar substrate which is fabricated using well known fibre manufacturing methods developed by world-leading teams at the ORC. By employing a fibre fabrication approach, it is possible to produce a substrate with lower impurities which will potentially reduce any losses compared to traditional planar technology. In combination with direct UV writing (a technique which uses a high-intensity laser beam to write waveguide channels on a planar sample), the 'Flat fibre' offers a platform for the multi-functionality of integrated optics, while retaining many mechanical, chemical and optical properties characteristic of the optical fibre.

‘Using the 'Flat fibre' we can take more measurements at several points over long distances, without the losses associated with single planar points’ comments Rafiq Adikan, another member of the team. ‘This could have huge benefits for many applications, including the ability to effectively monitor pollutants in river water over much greater distances and with an accuracy that has never been achieved before.’

This project is a joint venture between the Planar Optical Materials group and the Silica Fibre Fabrication group. To find out more about their research activities visit their webpages.

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