Creating optical fibre out of thin air

Creating optical fibre out of thin air
Scientists at the University of Marlyand’s Computer, Mathematical and Natural Science department have turned thin air into an “optical fibre” capable of transmitting and amplifying light. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.

With a proof-of-principle experiment Professor Howard Milchberg and his team have been able to create an “air waveguide” which could theoretically be used as an instantaneous optical fibre to any location.

The findings and their applications could have long lasting impact in the fields of communications, high resolution topographic mapping and climate change research. The research could also change the professional AV sector where optical fiber cables are a staple of any installation.

Optical fibre cables beam light through glass cores with a high refractive index. The core is surrounded by a material with a low refractive index to reflect escaping light back into the core and hence maintain its intensity. As it can be imagined though, optical fiber cables need a physical structure to support them and are also limited in the amount of power they can carry.

By using short powerful pulses from a laser to heat air molecules and manipulate its density, Milchberg and his colleagues were able to create an “optical fibre” out of air. They were also able to transmit and receive an optical signal. The next step for the research team is to show that the air waveguides can be used over long distances.