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Plastic optical fibres with embedded active polymers for data communications

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Plastic optical fibres light the way

Ground-breaking research by a team of European scientists paves the way for optical computing, ultra-high-speed networks, new sensing devices and more. All using cheaper, safer plastic optical fibres.

Digital Economy

Many of today's photonic applications, from ICT to bio-medical, require low-cost, flexible, lightweight and robust solutions. Organic materials are ideal candidates with excellent photonic properties, which means they are able to carry light and transfer data better than ever before. Flexible plastic fibres, with a core diameter of just 1mm and made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), are cheap to produce, easy to install and transmit light in the visible range as opposed to infrared, making maintenance easier and safer. But those properties typically come at the expense of lower bandwidth and high attenuation, restricting their use to sending data over short distances at relatively low speeds. As a result, POF networks have mostly been used as an alternative to copper wires for short-distance - or so-called last-mile - data transmission. In offices and homes, POF has become a popular alternative for setting up local area networks (LANs), while in cars plastic fibres have replaced copper for sending video signals to onboard entertainment systems or obtaining data from sensors. Polymers can also be used as active layers in a variety of plastic laser devices, in amplifiers and also for all-optical switching, to name a few applications. The EU project 'Plastic optical fibres with embedded active polymers for data communications' (Polycom) delivered several breakthroughs in this field. It improved material quality, established a better understanding of the photophysics and improved the base technology, including ultra-fast switching in polymer amplifiers, conjugated-polymer doped POFs, and in so-called distributed feedback lasers used in optical communication. The consortium, including leading academic institutions, also came up with new devices such as optofluidic chips designed to use optical interfaces only. The project's breakthroughs look set to strengthen European competitiveness in the field of organic optoelectronics, nano-fabrication, nano-photonics and nano-electronics. Its work matches the needs of many of today's photonic applications, from ICT to bio-medical, which require low-cost, flexible, lightweight and robust devices.

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