Queen Mary Innovation

Queen Mary Scientists devise new fibre optic technology

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have developed a new method of fabricating a material which has the potential to improve the effectiveness of fibre optic technology and revolutionise the telecommunications industry.

25 March 2014

25 March 2014

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have developed a new method of fabricating a material which has the potential to improve the effectiveness of fibre optic technology and revolutionise the telecommunications industry.

Research conducted by Professor William Gillin from Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr Peter Wyatt, a Senior Lecturer in Organic Chemistry, in the journal Nature Materials shows how optical communications networks can be improved by incorporating erbium ions into organic hosts alongside separate chromophores, or light harvesting chemical groups. This novel approach of separating the erbium ions and the chromophores allows each material to be optimised to improve performance. “This allows for much greater control over the individual functions which gives us fine control over the properties through design at a molecular scale,” said Professor Gillin, the senior author of the paper.

Using a waveguide, the research team tested an Erbium-Organic Optical Amplifiers with very high efficiency using a low power optical pump. The approach is compatible with silicon photonics technology and allows for efficient optical gain in such circuits.

“Optical amplification plays a vital part in this technology, as all components in a real telecommunications system produce some loss. Our experiments show a potential organic optical amplifier material which demonstrates population inversion when pumped from above using low power visible light. This system is integrated into an organic light emitting diode (OLED) demonstrating that electrical pumping can be achieved,” said Professor Gillin.

Fibre optic technology has revolutionised the modern global telecommunications industry, playing a major role in the advent of the Information Age, but it has its limitations. Current technology relies on the transmission and manipulation of optical signals which, due to a loss of light, can become weak as it travels through the fibre. Despite the relatively low losses experienced in these fibres, it is still necessary to regularly amplify the optical signals using erbium doped fibre amplifiers.

QML’s School of Physics and Astronomy developed a new approach to making “photonic circuits” on silicon which could allow for the cheap integration of lasers onto silicon chips.

The results open the possibility for direct electrically driven optical amplifiers and optical circuits and provide an alternative approach to producing low cost integrated optics that is compatible with existing silicon photonics and a different route to an effective integrated optics technology.

The approach is fully compatible with vacuum processing and devices can be deposited onto any substrate, which opens up the possibility for new hybrid integrated optoelectronic devices and applications such as organic optical amplifiers.

“This disruptive technology has the potential to allow us to make a new range of optical devices for the telecommunications industry. It may also allow us to cheaply integrate lasers onto silicon chips so that we can produce high speed optical communications links between chips,” said Dr Pushkar Wadke, Technology Transfer Manager at Queen Mary Innovation, Queen Mary’s wholly-owned Technology Transfer Company.

The IP is owned by Queen Mary University and covered by a patent. The research has received a proof-of-concept grant to develop the technology and negotiations are currently taking place with QMI, Queen Mary University’s technology transfer arm to potentially spin the research out into a separate company.

The paper can be found at http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/v13/n4/full/nmat3910.html