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University unveils silicon fibre optics

Posted: 31 Oct 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fibre optics  crystalline silicon  optical signals 

Fibre optics for communications offer substantial bandwidth but are harder to manipulate than electrical signals. Clemson University researchers have studied inserting crystalline silicon into the core of conventional optical fibres, hoping to harness the embedded semiconductors to process optical signals. This could have many applications, including multiplying frequencies and providing access to longer wavelengths currently not available when using conventional glass fibres.

"You can make silicon semiconductor core fibre just like you could a glass fibre," said Clemson University professor John Ballato. "The two biggest applications or opportunities are longer wavelengths—three to seven microns for (electronic) countermeasures and for medicine.

"Secondly (silicon core fibres) could be very useful for taking the high powers that we can produce in the visible and near-infrared and frequency-shifting them out to the mid-infrared. That is the next step."

The researchers claim they have demonstrated for the first time that silicon core optical fibres can be mass-produced merely by modifying the equipment used to manufacture conventional optical fibres. Optical fibres are currently made with molten glass, wrapped with a slightly different glass, which is pulled into long fibres.

Since the melting point of silicon is lower than that of conventional optical fibres, the researchers said they were able to insert molten silicon cores while the optical fibres were being pulled, resulting in fibres that can be mass produced, but which house a crystalline silicon semiconducting core.

The crystalline silicon core fibres outperformed conventional glass optical fibres while allowing longer wavelengths besides the 1.5µm wavelengths used for telecommunications. Devices that operate at 3 to 7 microns could be used in countermeasure devices to defeat radar-guided missiles. Medical scanners that work at the longer wavelengths also could benefit from the silicon core optical fibres.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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