New kind of optical fiber developed

Feb 25, 2011
Credit: Gonzalo Pineda Zuniga

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of scientists led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, has developed the very first optical fiber made with a core of zinc selenide -- a light-yellow compound that can be used as a semiconductor. The new class of optical fiber, which allows for a more effective and liberal manipulation of light, promises to open the door to more versatile laser-radar technology. Such technology could be applied to the development of improved surgical and medical lasers, better countermeasure lasers used by the military, and superior environment-sensing lasers such as those used to measure pollutants and to detect the dissemination of bioterrorist chemical agents. The team's research will be published in the journal Advanced Materials.

"It has become almost a cliché to say that optical fibers are the cornerstone of the modern information age," said Badding. "These long, thin fibers, which are three times as thick as a human hair, can transmit over a terabyte -- the equivalent of 250 DVDs -- of information per second. Still, there always are ways to improve on existing technology." Badding explained that optical-fiber technology always has been limited by the use of a glass core. "Glass has a haphazard arrangement of atoms," Badding said. "In contrast, a crystalline substance like zinc selenide is highly ordered. That order allows light to be transported over longer wavelengths, specifically those in the mid-infrared."

Unlike silica glass, which traditionally is used in optical fibers, zinc selenide is a compound . "We've known for a long time that zinc selenide is a useful compound, capable of manipulating light in ways that silica can't," Badding said. "The trick was to get this compound into a fiber structure, something that had never been done before." Using an innovative high-pressure chemical-deposition technique developed by Justin Sparks, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, Badding and his team deposited zinc selenide waveguiding cores inside of silica glass capillaries to form the new class of optical fibers. "The high-pressure deposition is unique in allowing formation of such long, thin, zinc selenide fiber cores in a very confined space," Badding said.

The scientists found that the optical fibers made of zinc selenide could be useful in two ways. First, they observed that the new fibers were more efficient at converting light from one color to another. "When traditional optical fibers are used for signs, displays, and art, it's not always possible to get the colors you want," Badding explained. "Zinc selenide, using a process called nonlinear frequency conversion, is more capable of changing colors."

Second, as Badding and his team expected, they found that the new class of fiber provided more versatility not just in the visible spectrum, but also in the infrared -- electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than those of visible light. Existing technology is inefficient at transmitting infrared light. However, the zinc selenide optical fibers that Badding's team developed are able to transmit the longer wavelengths of infrared light. "Exploiting these wavelengths is exciting because it represents a step toward making fibers that can serve as infrared lasers," Badding explained. "For example, the military currently uses laser-radar technology that can handle the near-infrared, or 2 to 2.5-micron range. A device capable of handling the mid-infrared, or over 5-micron range would be more accurate. The fibers we created can transmit wavelengths of up to 15 microns."

Badding also explained that the detection of pollutants and environmental toxins could be yet another application of better laser-radar technology capable of interacting with light of longer wavelengths. "Different molecules absorb light of different wavelengths; for example, water absorbs, or stops, light at the wavelengths of 2.6 microns," Badding said. "But the molecules of certain pollutants or other toxic substances may absorb light of much longer wavelengths. If we can transport over longer wavelengths through the atmosphere, we can see what substances are out there much more clearly." In addition, Badding mentioned that zinc selenide optical fibers also may open new avenues of research that could improve laser-assisted surgical techniques, such as corrective eye surgery.

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axemaster
2.3 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
"and to detect the dissemination of bioterrorist chemical agents"

Why does terrorism have to be brought up so often? References to terrorism have been in so many Physorg articles recently that it's becoming extremely annoying.

Moreover, has anyone ever heard of terrorists ACTUALLY using biological or nuclear weapons of any kind? I can't remember ever hearing about that (except for the anthrax guy in the USA, but he was taking it out of his lab, not bringing it in from another country).

Evidence says that terrorists use BOMBS. Stuff that EXPLODES. They do not use biological or nuclear weapons. So continuing to talk about these mythical weapons is really getting stupid.
DoubleD
5 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2011
"Moreover, has anyone ever heard of terrorists ACTUALLY using biological or nuclear weapons of any kind? I can't remember ever hearing about that (except for the anthrax guy in the USA, but he was taking it out of his lab, not bringing it in from another country).


Off the top of my head... sarin gas attack on Japanese subways
blyster
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make sure it doesn't happen. I'm sure they would if they could.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
And who cares where the anthrax guy got it, or what his religion was, he was still a terrorist.

But anyway, they put those references in because Darpa hands out grants like they own the printing press. And regardless of who funds the development, the civil uses will still get commercialized.
YawningDog
1 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2011
I download about a dozen science podcasts to listen to while traveling. I've noticed subtle changes in the way "science" is now reported. There seems to be an undertone of implantation or inculcation of certain ways of seeing the news, as presented.

An example would be how "global warming" has slowly been replaced with "climate changing" in science reporting.

Could it be that those interested in science are now being subjected to the same propaganda techniques used in the mainstream media?
that_guy
5 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2011
An example would be how "global warming" has slowly been replaced with "climate changing" in science reporting.

Could it be that those interested in science are now being subjected to the same propaganda techniques used in the mainstream media?


Because the english language stays still, and you still refer to things as "Da bomb" and "Rad" and "Tubular"

And yes, scientist do happen to have a slightly leftward bias sometimes in america (especially sciam) because there are a lot of anti-science and anti-intellectual conservatives like james dobson or sarah palin in america.

But even there, it's only slight and on specific issues...a lot of scientists are well rounded people and pick the right views where there is one, rather than a dogmatic one...so even they are not as liberal as you think.

As for the article...this is more of an industry specific thing...It certainly has applications, but from what I see wont replace glass fiber for mainstream communication
stealthc
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
the terrorist reference is disgusting and what business is it of people if I smoke a joint or not? This technology is evil.
Bog_Mire
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
I would hazard (no pun) a guess that there has been multiple biological/chemical/nuclear near miss terrorist attacks around the western world that have been hushed up, in order to keep the peeps sane and not fuel the fire of fear.
MorituriMax
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
Why does terrorism have to be brought up so often? References to terrorism have been in so many Physorg articles recently that it's becoming extremely annoying.

Maybe because we live in a world where bad people want to kill us for no good reason? ? ? And many of the luxuries and technologies we enjoy today came about because of research into purely military venues.

A few decades ago, we probably would have seen many references to Russia, the Iron Curtain, Communism, and the Red Threat if we had had Physorg back then.