Optical fibres are at the heart of today’s technology. They save lives through medical diagnosis and interventions using fibre-optic endoscopes, and they enable the mass production of commercial products through fibre laser based materials processing.
Over the past four decades these optical fibres have also taken over all data transport for communications systems (including mobile), and increased the speed and reduced the cost of transporting data more than a billion times. Most of the technology used to do this was developed by the ORC.
For much of this time the fibre has consisted of a hair-thin glass ‘cladding’ with a ten-times-thinner ‘core’ at its centre of a slightly different glass that actually guides the light. But this system is nearing its limits because the glass itself is nearing the limit of the data it can carry without distortion.
This Airguide Photonics programme is pushing the limits of this technology even further by making fibres with a core made of air, in which the light is held by a complex pattern of extremely thin glass membranes running parallel to the fibre axis, within a hollow glass supporting fibre tube. Guiding light through air in this way, rather than through glass, significantly increases the fibre’s bandwidth, power handling and light transmission quality.
These new fibres are looking extremely promising, and have already exceeded traditional glass fibre performance in a number of respects, such as distortion and absolute speed of transport. The Airguide Photonics team expects to push this performance even further over the course of the project, producing a new revolution in optical communications capability.
Airguide Photonics is part of a large and active outreach programme that works closely with the University’s marketing and communications specialists to ensure the greatest PR impact.