Fiber Optic - Manufacturing - Materials - Silica


Silica exhibits fairly good optical transmission over a wide range of wavelengths. In the near-infrared (near IR) portion of the spectrum, particularly around 1.5 μm, silica can have extremely low absorption and scattering losses of the order of 0.2 dB/km. Such remarkably low losses are possible only because ultra-pure silicon is available, it being essential for manufacturing integrated circuits and discrete transistors. A high transparency in the 1.4-μm region is achieved by maintaining a low concentration of hydroxyl groups (OH). Alternatively, a high OH concentration is better for transmission in the ultraviolet (UV) region.

Silica can be drawn into fibers at reasonably high temperatures, and has a fairly broad glass transformation range. One other advantage is that fusion splicing and cleaving of silica fibers is relatively effective. Silica fiber also has high mechanical strength against both pulling and even bending, provided that the fiber is not too thick and that the surfaces have been well prepared during processing. Even simple cleaving (breaking) of the ends of the fiber can provide nicely flat surfaces with acceptable optical quality. Silica is also relatively chemically inert. In particular, it is not hygroscopic (does not absorb water).

Silica glass can be doped with various materials. One purpose of doping is to raise the refractive index (e.g. with Germanium dioxide (GeO2) or Aluminium oxide (Al2O3)) or to lower it (e.g. with fluorine or Boron trioxide (B2O3)). Doping is also possible with laser-active ions (for example, rare earth-doped fibers) in order to obtain active fibers to be used, for example, in fiber amplifiers or laser applications. Both the fiber core and cladding are typically doped, so that the entire assembly (core and cladding) is effectively the same compound (e.g. an aluminosilicate, germanosilicate, phosphosilicate or borosilicate glass).

Particularly for active fibers, pure silica is usually not a very suitable host glass, because it exhibits a low solubility for rare earth ions. This can lead to quenching effects due to clustering of dopant ions. Aluminosilicates are much more effective in this respect.

Silica fiber also exhibits a high threshold for optical damage. This property ensures a low tendency for laser-induced breakdown. This is important for fiber amplifiers when utilized for the amplification of short pulses.

Because of these properties silica fibers are the material of choice in many optical applications, such as communications (except for very short distances with plastic optical fiber), fiber lasers, fiber amplifiers, and fiber-optic sensors. Large efforts put forth in the development of various types of silica fibers have further increased the performance of such fibers over other materials.

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