Daniel Porter
Aug 15, 2012

Fiber optics: now with sapphire

A group of Clemson University researchers was unsatisfied with the limited properties of modern fiber optic cables. “We have used a highly purified version of beach sand (silica) for fiber for the last 40 years,” said John Ballato, director of the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies at Clemson University, " [and] while silica has done remarkably well over time, it is now being pushed to its limits for faster and cheaper data and new functionality.” The limit comes from excitations of the atoms in a material caused by the light it carries. The light shakes the atoms, and the shaking can't transport as much light. The Clemson team turned to sapphire, which has more favorable optical properties but a crystalline structure that is "not amenable" to making optical fiber. The researchers overcame this difficulty and managed to create sapphire fibers that are able to to withstand greater intensities, making them useful for high-energy applications.