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Plastic optical fibres with embedded active polymers for data communications

Exploitable results

Polycom is an advanced research project aimed at developing future technology based on new concepts for all optical switching that are suitable for integration into Plastic Optical Fibres networks. The main objective of the project is the development of active organic photonic devices capable of all-optical ultrafast gain switching. A further objective is the achievement of pure knowledge, related to the photophysical mechanism underlying the main application. Polycom results include demonstration of devices, at the proof of concept level, and knowledge on materials, processes and their photonics properties. Many of today's photonic applications, from ICT to bio-medical, require low-cost, flexible, light-weight and robust solutions. Organic materials are ideal candidates to fulfill these needs, as they combine the mechanical and economical properties of plastics with a range of excellent photonic properties, such as large cross sections, good optical transmission, broad spectral tuneability, and large and ultrafast non-linear responses. Plastic optical fibres (POFs), for example, have emerged as the best candidate for short-haul data communication applications in automotive or other local area networks. Active conjugated polymers, on the other hand, provide high gain over a broad visible spectral range, and can be used as active layers in a variety of plastic laser devices, in amplifiers and also for all-optical switching. All-optical switching is key for working towards optical computing or for time division multiplexing (TDM), a technology that is regaining attention for ICT applications. Within the Polycom project several breakthroughs have occurred as a result of improved material quality, better understanding of the photophysics and improved technology. These include ultrafast switching in polymer amplifiers, in conjugated-polymer doped POFs, and in DFB lasers and the realization of new devices such as ASE optofluidic chips. These advances pave the way for the up-take of polymer photonics in a wider context. The Polycom project was based on the finding that isolated conjugated polymers can provide a new all-optical ultrafast switching mechanism, which derives from the one-dimensional dynamics of isolated chains. To exploit this finding and turn it into an easily integratable and usable photonic device, we used a multi-disciplinary strategy. The project produced new materials, optimized and studied the blending process to achieve active polymer chain isolation (including the use of copolymerization), investigated, in detail, the photonic properties of these doped systems and developed prototype fibres and device structures. This work has lead to several breakthroughs and produced quality publications and interest and discussion throughout research and industry. The work performed within Polycom is a breakthrough in all-optical switching for organic photonics as we demonstrate a resonant switching process with high on/off ratios and ultrafast response times. In the future, these findings may increase the data transmission rates in data communications, allow a move towards time division multiplexing (TDM) to increase bandwidth and could have implications for all-optical computing. The values of gain achievable with our photonic devices are cutting edge values. Add to that their ultrafast all-optical switching capability and the Polycom project puts Europe in a position to lead the field of organic photonics. We have produced a range of 'gain switcher' photonic devices, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, demonstrating the flexibility of the organic photonic approach. In addition, lifetime and environmental studies on our doped POFs demonstrate that they can withstand temperatures up to 300C without degradation and are stable for months in ambient conditions. They therefore fit the needs of many of today's photonic applications, from ICT to bio-medical, which require low-cost, flexible, light-weight and robust devices. The ultimate outcome of the project will, we hope, be wealth creation through technology up-take of further end-users creating sustainable growth and consequently employment opportunities. It is believed that the breakthrough results from Polycom will put Europe in a prime position to effectively generate more industrial growth in the organic photonics related market. The project results, in particular the devices produced and the knowledge gained, should increase the European competitiveness in the field of organic optoelectronics, nanofabrication, nano-photonics and nano-electronics by providing novel solutions without technological gaps.