Fibres and Lasers

Optical fibres and lasers lie at the very heart of modern society, providing the information superhighways required within our global communication systems. The development of low loss fibre and the erbium doped fibre amplifier (EDFA), both pioneered at the Optoelectronics Research Centre, has seen the elimination of attenuation as the primary limitation to transmission, allowing high capacity data transfer over transcontinental distances.

We are carrying on this pioneering research and developing the fibres, fibre devices, and system concepts required for next-generation telecommunication systems. We are also investigating 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. 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.

Creating solutions that deliver more bandwidth

Building on our experience of developing EDFAs, we are now developing thulium-doped fibre amplifiers (TDFAs) which enable transmission at 2 μm offering the possibility of delivering up to four times as much bandwidth and longer distances before the data traffic needs to be amplified. We are also developing speciality transmission fibre optimised for this new wavelength.

We already hold the record for data transmission at 2 μm as well as highest data capacity through a hollow-core fibre, a completely new form of fibre with the potential for lower loss than existing solid fibres.

Our novel optical fibres also have applications in high-power fibre lasers. We have been engaged in pulsed fibre laser development since the first demonstration of fibre lasers in the mid-1980s. Over this period we have produced numerous world first results most notably in the area of high-energy Q-switched systems, passively mode-locked lasers, high average power pulsed systems and fibre laser pumped parametric devices.

Now we are investigating an entirely new application for fibre lasers: particle acceleration. We are coordinating an international project to develop fibre lasers that aims to enable particle accelerators that are less than 100m long, as opposed to today’s structures that are tens of kilometres long. This new laser system could also have other innovative applications such as proton therapy for cancer patients, nuclear transmutation for cleaning up radioactive waste and in a new class of accelerator-driven nuclear reactors, not reliant on chain reactions and therefore more easily switched off.

As well as working on our own research projects, we regularly make fibres for other research groups and industrial partners.

For more information on our current projects please the Optoelectronics Research Centre website.