Optical fibres lie at the very heart of modern society, providing the information superhighways required within our global communication systems.
The first demonstrations of light guidance within an optical fibre took place in the early 1960’s, yet as the result of much ingenuity and sustained funding by the telecommunications industry, within little over 30 years the transmission capacity of a single fibre has been increased from just the few Kbit/s required for a single telephone link to over 10Tbit/s – sufficient bandwidth to support more than 250 million simultaneous telephone conversations, or more than 100,000 broadband connections operating at 10Mbit/s.
The development of low loss fibre and the erbium doped fibre amplifier, (both pioneered at Southampton), has seen the elimination of attenuation as the primary limitation to transmission, allowing high capacity data transfer over transcontinental distances.
Research into fibre technology has been a critical enabler to the past development of communication systems, and continued effort will be required to develop the core, metro and access networks of the future needed to deliver exciting new high bandwidth applications such as high definition TV, interactive gaming, and video-on-demand directly via fibre to the subscriber premises.
There has clearly been a massive investment in optical fibre telecommunications technology over the years. Major breakthroughs have been made in manufacturing processes, as well as in both component and system concepts and there is now a growing worldwide interest in exploring how different aspects of this exciting technology can be used in other areas of major scientific and industrial significance.
The role of the AFTA group is to develop the fibres, fibre devices, and system concepts required for next generation telecommunication systems, and to investigate new applications of the technology in areas beyond telecommunications including amongst others: high power lasers, industrial materials processing, aerospace, biology, sensing and fundamental physics. For example, we study techniques to make fibres that are 1,000 times thinner than telecommunications fibres which can be used to probe inside cells with obvious applications in biology and medicine. We look at applying fabrication and device concepts proven in silica to new materials allowing extensions of these devices to new wavelength ranges such as the mid-IR where many molecules have characteristic absorption signatures with applications in sensing and chemistry. At even more extreme wavelength scales we are hoping to exploit the high power laser pulses that we can generate in the near-IR using fibres lasers to realise new sources of X-rays for imaging single molecules.
The group’s research can be broadly categorised into three main technological areas:
However, it is to be appreciated that the boundaries between these research areas are very ill-defined, and that our work often extends to many seemingly disparate fields of application.
Work within the group is ostensibly conducted within various distinct subgroups, although the membership and boundaries between these subgroups are deliberately ill-defined and flexible (as they are throughout the ORC), facilitating internal collaboration, cross-fertilisation of ideas, and the ready building of teams with the full range of capabilities required to undertake interdisciplinary projects.
Full details of all current research projects are summarised under the overarching project page Advanced Fibre Technologies & Applications.