AirGuide Photonics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC)

Abstract

Optical fibres lie at the heart of our increasingly technological society, for example: supporting the internet and mobile communications that we all now take for granted, saving lives through medical diagnosis and interventions using fibre-optic endoscopes, and enabling the mass production of a huge array of commercial products through fibre laser based materials processing.

However, current fibre optics technology has its limitations due largely to the fact that the light is confined to a solid glass core. This places fundamental restrictions on the power and wavelength range over which signals can be transmitted, the speed at which signals propagate, and in terms of sensitivity to the external environment. These limits are now starting to impose restrictions in many application areas. For example, in telecommunications, nonlinear interactions between wavelength channels limit the maximum overall data transmission capacity of current single mode fibres to ~100-200 Tbit/s (for amplified terrestrial systems). Moreover, nonlinear, thermal and material damage thresholds combine to limit the maximum peak and average powers that can be delivered in a tightly focusable beam. This restricts the range of potential uses, particularly in the important ultrashort pulse regime increasingly used for a wide variety of materials processing applications

These limitations can in principle be overcome by exploiting new light guidance mechanisms in fibres with a hollow core surrounded by a fine glass microstructure. Such fibres are generally referred to as Hollow Core Fibres (HCFs). Within this Programme we will seek to reinvent fibre optics technology and will replace the glass core with air or vacuum to produce Optical Fibres 2.0, offering vastly superior but largely unexplored potential. Our ultimate vision is that of a Connected World, where devices, machines, data centres and cities can be linked through these hollow light pipes for faster, cheaper, more resilient and secure communications. A Greener and Healthier World, where intense laser light can be channelled to produce goods and run combustion engines more efficiently and to image cancer tissues inside our bodies in real time. And an Explorative World, where hollow lightguides will enable scientific breakthroughs in attosecond science, particle physics, metrology and interplanetary exploration. Our overall ambition is therefore to revisit the way we think about light guidance and to develop a disruptive technology that challenges conventional thinking.

The programme will provide the UK with a world-leading position both in HCF technology itself and in the many new applications and services that it will support.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of this research will be both the research communities and, in the longer term, the commercial sector. The research beneficiaries and the impact the Programme will have on them are largely described in the academic beneficiaries section.

In the area of commercial exploitation, the ORC has significant past experience and a track record of exploiting IP, both in terms of licensing to users and in the formation of spin-off ventures. In the Southampton area alone, a cluster of high tech, high value-added photonics spinout companies currently employs about 700 people and plays a major role in the regional and national economy. Exploitation will be through the form of IP generated or knowledge transfer. Where applicable, we will seek to exploit our results through new start-up companies, joint ventures or industry-led deals.

Research that has the potential for commercial exploitation will be reviewed on a quarterly basis, with invention disclosure forms documenting the names of inventors and their respective percentage contributions to the invention. Results of the research will be exploited via the University's Research Support Services, who provide valuable commercial and legal resources. We also work with the SETsquared Partnership, a successful entrepreneurship collaboration.

Throughout the course of the Programme, we will undertake the training and development of the next generation of scientists and engineers (starting with 5 new Postdocs and 12 Students) to expand the knowledge and skills-base, and through it the competitiveness of the UK economy. This will be carried out through the institution's graduate training programme and staff development schemes.

A marketing manager will assist in the communication and dissemination aspects of the Programme, to reach out to a wider audience and raise the visibility of the research. Where appropriate, PDRAs and students will be involved in the impact activities as part of their training and broader skills development, e.g., in user engagement discussions, writing of technical reports and research publications.
 
Description RAEng Senior Research Fellowship (March 2018 - Feb 2023), 'Thermally-insensitive Hollow Core Optical Fibres, RCSFR1718\6\15
Amount £188,960 (GBP)
Funding ID RCSFR1718\6\15 
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2023
 
Description Airguide phd event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Airguide PhD event in November 2018. Promoted to specific third and final year undergraduate students studying physics, maths, engineering and computer science at the University of Southampton. 11 of our target audience attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Edinburgh Fringe appearance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact - Edinburgh Fringe - Airguide sponsored Dr Matthew Partridge's two stand-up performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in August 2018, titled 'Fibre optics can save the World!'. 250 Airguide-branded fliers were distributed and 50-60 people attended the two shows. Matthew was also interviewed twice by BBC Radio Solent Breakfast Show. Around 10,000+ social media impressions were created.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description International Day of light event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact - International Day of Light event 'Fibre optics can save the World!'. This event was promoted across the whole University, particularly to undergraduate students. Over 40 of our target audience attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Involvement in a BBC 4 Documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact - Hollow core fibres and an interview with Professor Francesco Poletti, featured on BBC4 documentary 'The Secret Story of Stuff', aired on 31st October 2018, with estimated viewing figures of up to 3M (part of a 12minute ORC focus)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bqjrpt
 
Description Social media campaign 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact - Social media campaign using #AirguidePhotonics generated some 25,000+ impressions and 500+ engagements
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018