Sep 1, 2017 | By Benedict

Angeles Camacho Rosales, a postgraduate research student at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre in the UK, is developing ways to 3D print glass for optical fibers that could lead to improved data transmission systems.

As one of the world’s leading institutes for photonics research, the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre is a hotbed for new discoveries in optical telecommunication technology—discoveries that can lead to new and exciting solutions in medicine, security, and other areas.

Angeles Camacho Rosales, a postgraduate researcher at the Optoelectronics Research Centre, is currently working on one particularly promising project that involves the 3D printing of glass. The scientist says that silicon oxide powder can be used to 3D print optical-quality glass for optical fibers, planar wave guides, and other devices, potentially impacting data transmission systems in a major way.

According to Rosales, understanding the relationship between the 3D printable materials and light is a key challenge in her research, since the material’s absorption and reflection, as well as its capacity to propagate light and tendency to change under laser beam exposure, ultimately affect how the 3D printed glass turns out.

“Optimal working points must be found in the equipment—in this case the lasers—in order to synthesize the silicon oxide powder needed to make the fibers,” Rosales tells Conacyt.

Setting up a system for producing optical-quality glass will be no mean feat, but the researcher thinks her method could provide a useful alternative to current chemical vapor deposition techniques.

But it’s not just about coming up with different ways to do the same thing. Rather, Rosales thinks 3D printed glass may be the only option for producing the kind of highly complex optical fiber designs required for the next generation of data transmission technologies.

The Southampton postgraduate believes that current techniques are simply not up to the task. “For this reason, I propose that 3D printing could be the solution,” she says.

An additive manufacturing approach to optical glass production will also allow Rosales and other researchers to experiment with different optical designs, immediately seeing which are successful in the transition of information. Once a prototype is 3D printed, the fiber design can be subjected to physical testing regarding losses, data transmission, and propagation modes.

“Currently, when an optical fiber is designed, it often remains only as a prototype or computer simulation because in certain cases it is very difficult or even impossible to produce those designs,” Rosales explains. “With this new method, these exceptional designs could be realized, transforming telecommunications as we know it.”

One particular design that Rosales is keen to try with a 3D printing technique is a device that uses photonic crystal fibers to transmit light through the air.

“These designs are very complex to manufacture because they are made with capillaries—tiny glass tubes,” Rosales says. “That kind of design is my goal to print, in addition to other fiber designs that have multiple cores.”

Rosales will spend the next two years working on the 3D printing project, as she seeks to produce both optical-quality glass and fibers with complex geometries.

“The next step will be to 3D print fibers from multiple materials, which I try to do during a postdoctoral period, because it involves more time,” she adds. “Finally, I will try to develop or perfect the process of 3D printing the preforms that will later become high-quality optical fibers.”

Evidence suggests Rosales is in the right place to achieve her goals. In 2015, researchers from the same research center at the University of Southampton proposed their own optical fiber 3D printing technique. The center also boasts plenty of high-tech equipment, including an integrated photonics clean room, silica fiber facilities, and more.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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