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High speed optical fibres could enable cheaper communications

1 min read

Scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, embedded the high level of performance normally associated with chip based semiconductors into an optical fibre, creating high speed optoelectronic function.

The breakthrough, they believe, could lead to improved telecommunications and other hybrid optical/electronic technologies. According to senior research fellow Dr Pier Sazio, the team took a novel approach to the problems traditionally associated with embedding this technology. Rather than merge a flat chip with a round optical fibre, they found a way to build a new kind of optical fibre with its own integrated electronic component, thereby by-passing the need to integrate fibre optics onto a chip. To do this, they used high pressure chemistry techniques to deposit semiconducting materials layer by layer directly into tiny holes in optical fibres. "The big breakthrough here is that we don't need the whole chip as part of the finished product," says Dr Saxio. "We have managed to build the junction - the active boundary where all the electronic action takes place - right into the fibre. Moreover, while conventional chip fabrication requires multimillion dollar clean room facilities, our process can be performed with simple equipment that costs much less." Dr Anna Peacock, from the university's Optoelectronics Research Centre, added: "The incorporation of optoelectronic device functionality inside the optical fibre geometry is an important technological advance for future communication networks. In this sense, we can start to imagine a scenario where the data signal never has to leave the fibre for faster, cheaper, more efficient systems. The researchers believe the demonstration has the potential to be a key enabling technology in the drive for faster, lower cost, and more energy efficient communication networks. The research was carried out in collaboration with Penn State University and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the National Science Foundation.