NSF Materials World Network: Semiconductor photonic materials inside microstructured optical fibers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre


The development of optical fibres led directly to the data communications revolution of the late 20th century. Today their application base has expanded and they are now impacting many other fields from remote sensing to biomedicine. This impact is growing in part because of rapid advances in active devices for which the fibre serves not merely as a passive waveguide, but as a medium to directly modulate, generate, or otherwise manipulate light. As a result of this versatility, fibres form key components of systems in almost any applications that use light. Materials for current active fiber devices are largely limited to those that are compatible with the fiber drawing process. This multidisciplinary and collaborative project between Penn State University and the University of Southampton Optoelectronics Research Centre is focused on incorporating new materials into optical fibers to broaden the range of possible active fiber devices, focusing particularly on mid-IR applications where the fundamental rotational and vibrational structure of many organic molecules have strong, characteristic fingerprint absorption features. Semiconductor filled optical fibres thus have enormous potential for robust, compact, powerful and cost-effective mid-IR including recycling management of plastics and other waste reprocessing, optical gas sensors for pollution monitoring, remote sensing, industrial process control, spectroscopy, infrared countermeasures as well as medicine and health care. The broader impacts of the research include strengthening ties across disciplines and between UK and US research efforts.

Planned Impact

The primary goal of this project is to develop semiconductor-filled microstructured optical fibre technology, which is still in its infancy and thus has considerable potential academic impact in the near term. Looking further ahead, the rich functionality and broad operational wavelength range of silicon, germanium, ZnSe and other group II-VI materials could be exploited to realise devices with applications not only in telecoms, but also in medicine, imaging, spectroscopy, and sensing. During the project lifetime, we will significantly improve the understanding of fibre-based semiconductor functionality. By training new staff (the RA and research students) and consolidating our US/UK collaborative network, we will ensure that the UK has a solid skill and knowledge base in this area for future industrial and academic developments. Our efforts will also be applicable to other commercially relevant areas of nonlinear photonics, including planar waveguides technologies, high power lasers and materials research. In the near term, the technology has the potential to be employed in a specialised range of high-end optical devices operating at novel mid-infrared wavelengths, in particular for environmental and bio-sensing and medical imaging. The results will be disseminated to the research community through publication in international journals and presentations at international conferences. Significant breakthroughs will also be publicised to the wider public through non-specialist journals, such as 'New Scientist' and professional magazines such as 'Laser Focus World', and via our website. The Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has a highly successful history of industrial collaborations and is ideally placed to ensure that the relevant industrial beneficiaries will hear about our research. It is at the centre of a cluster of local photonic companies and is maintaining close links to the wider UK and overseas industry through research contracts and through its large alumnus. The ORC also has a notable track record in the generation of patentable work and the protection of intellectual property. Patents will be applied for when applicable and the process will be administered via the Research and Innovation Services (RIS).
Description This award cemented a very successful and ongoing transatlantic partnership with colleagues at Penn State University, helping us to maintain our international position at the forefront of both photonics and materials research. We published numerous UK/US journal and conference papers and as a direct result of the joint research and development efforts, which were highly multidisciplinary in nature, including high pressure chemistry, optical materials, photonic and optoelectronic device physics and technology, we were able to attract further funding from the United States Air Force in order to manufacture new semiconductor optical fibre devices based on the II-VI technologies we have jointly developed.
Exploitation Route As well as infrared countermeasures for defence applications, embedding new materials into optical fibres potentially allows for mid-infrared applications where many organic molecules have strong, characteristic fingerprint absorption features. Zinc selenide filled optical fibres thus have enormous potential in, for example, recycling management of plastics and other waste, pollution sensors, as well as medicine and healthcare
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Healthcare

Description Composite material hollow core fibres for active photonics
Amount £782,766 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S036369/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2022
Description Penn State/ORC 
Organisation Penn State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The diversity and strength of experience in chemistry, optical materials, and optoelectronic devices provided by the cross-Atlantic collaboration has enabled the filing of joint patents, publication in high profile journals together and the results publicized on the web and in trade journals and disseminated via the Worldwide University Network of which both Penn State and Southampton are founder members. There have been extensive, extended visits to each others labs on the part of the students and PI's. The scientific benefits of the interaction are clear: this forefront research depends heavily on capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic. The collaboration strengthened ties between often disparate disciplines and provide a rich and exciting international experience for graduate and undergraduate students.
Collaborator Contribution As above
Impact Numerous journal and conference papers; the filing of joint patents; collaborative going NSF/EPSRC further funding; personnel exchange. The multidisciplinary nature of the research includes high pressure chemistry, optical materials, photonic and optoelectronic device physics and technology.